Heart attack: The feeling that could raise your risk of the condition by 29% – study

What's the difference between a heart attack and cardiac arrest?

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The American Heart Association (AHA) have published a study suggesting loneliness and social isolation could increase the risk of a deadly heart attack by as much as 29 percent.
Publishing their data this morning, the study reached its conclusion after careful analysis of the relationship between social isolation and cardiovascular health.

They also found social isolation and loneliness increased the risk of another deadly cardiovascular event, a stroke, where blood supply to the brain stops.

Speaking about the background to the research, Chair of the writing group Crystal Cene said: “Over four decades of research has clearly demonstrated that social isolation and loneliness are both associated with adverse health outcomes.”

The research comes at a time when loneliness is on the rise, particularly among 18–25-year-olds and others in Gen Z, but also in older age groups too.

What is the difference between social isolation and loneliness?

Social isolation is defined as infrequent person to person contact with people for social relationships such as family and friends, while loneliness is the feeling of being alone or having less connection with others than desired.

While similar, these experiences are very different, explained Cene: “Individuals can lead a relatively isolated life and not feel lonely, and conversely, people with many social contacts may still experience loneliness.”

However, Cene said overall there is “strong evidence linking social isolation and loneliness with increased risk of worse heart and brain health in general”.

While a factor in cardiovascular and neurological health, it is important to note this research is not definitive and not causational.

Nevertheless, Cene said: “There is an urgent need to develop, implement and evaluate programs and strategies to reduce the negative effects of social isolation and loneliness on cardiovascular and brain health, particularly for at-risk populations.”

Furthermore, Cene added doctors should take action too, that they should “ask patients about the frequency of their social activity and whether they are satisfied with their level of interactions with friends or family [and be potentially] prepared to refer people who are socially isolated or lonely”.

As well as potentially improving their cardiovascular health, these interactions will in turn improve their mental health, something young people all over the world have been struggling with.

Which has the greatest impact on heart health?

On this Cene said: “It is unclear whether actually being isolated (social isolation) or feeling isolated (loneliness) matters most for cardiovascular and brain health because only a few studies have examined both in the same sample.

“More research is needed to examine the associations among social isolation, loneliness, coronary heart disease, stroke, dementia and cognitive impairment, and to better understand the mechanisms by which social isolation and loneliness influence cardiovascular and brain health outcomes.”

Although further research is required in order to ascertain a link between mental health and heart attacks, this statement provides a window into the impact mental health can have.

In recent years, the stigma around mental health has broken down as more people, both old and young, men and women, open up about how they feel.

Why has loneliness risen in recent years?

Mental health among young people has fallen in recent years, more referrals are being made than ever before to mental health services.

However, the problem has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic which has pulled people apart from their friends during some of their most formative years.

Despite the technological advancements which allow these friends to stay in touch, video calls and texts can’t replicate the feeling of being together with someone or a group in person.

Alongside this, some groups which would be vulnerable to loneliness, have had this feeling intensified by the pandemic such as the LGBTQ+ community, people living in rural areas, the deaf, the blind, and people with limited access to technology.

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