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Loneliness Can Cause High Blood Pressure - Increases Risk of Hypertension

March 30th 2006

Loneliness Can Cause High Blood Pressure - Increases Risk of Hypertension

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Researchers from the University of Chicago studied elderly people over the age of 50 and found that those that were lonely could have blood pressure readings up to 30 points higher than those who were surrounded by friends and family.   They believe that loneliness could be as bad as being overweight or inactive. 

It is estimated by the year 2010, 30 million Americans will be living alone, that's a 20 percent increase over 25 years ago.  It is now known that loneliness can lead to both stress and hypertension (high blood pressure).  E.J. Mundell suggests in Healthday News that loneliness may be its own risk factor.  According to two individuals involved in the research, Louise Hawkley and Richard Suzman, the results were surprising.  They were surprised by the "specificity" of the findings -- that it was loneliness, per se, and not attendant states such as depression or anger, that appeared to be responsible for the boost in blood pressure.  Hawkley said "So, that means that people who are lonely have a double whammy -- they are feeling the stress and they are lonely." 


High blood pressure can increase the risk of both strokes and heart attacks, so it is important to isolate various risk factors for high blood pressure.  In this study the researchers enrolled 229 people ages 50 to 68 years old.  Hawkley and her colleagues used standard questionnaires to determine each participant's perceived level of loneliness, as well as other psychosocial and cardiovascular risk factors.

The researchers accounted for negative emotive states, like sadness, stress or hostility.  Even after these considerations, the blood pressure readings were as much as 30 points higher in lonely people.  Plus the degree of hypertension appeared to get “stronger” with age. 

The researchers recommend strengthening existing relationships, plus make new ones.  Mundell mentioned that people can feel lonely even if they are with a lot of people.  Hawkly brought up the example of Princess Diana and Marilyn Monroe.  She said “there was certainly nothing lacking in their social lives, yet they claimed to have felt intensely lonely."


So what should loved-ones do?  Targeted interventions that break that cycle might help change things, she said. "This area is ripe to begin trying out interventions to see how one could change, modulate or reduce the impact of loneliness on blood pressure. If those interventions are low-cost and practical, then it's going to have a significant public health impact." 

The ABC News affiliate in Los Angeles ran a segment on this subject.  They brought up the case of Patricia Jones, who did care much for company, after she lost her husband and most of her vision. It took a toll on her health.

According to Cardiologist, Dr. Cynthia Thaik, doctors should ask about their patient’s social interactions, not just their diet and exercise.  Doctors should encourage their patients to reach out.  That's what Patricia Jones did. She's a volunteer who calls on lonely seniors at home. She says her sense of humor brightens their day.


"We find that patients are divorced, widowed, single and these are the patients who have a greater recurrence of heart attack," Thaik said.  The problem of loneliness will likely become a bigger health concern as more and more baby boomers reach their golden years.

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By Dan Wilson
Best Syndication

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