Loneliness can increase risk of heart disease and strokes

Researchers found loneliness has a physical impact. Credit: Dominic Lipinski / PA Wire/PA Images

A person's risk of heart disease or stroke is increased by loneliness and feeling socially isolated, according to new research.

The research found that the physical effect loneliness has on the heart is similar to that seen in people who suffer anxiety or have stressful jobs.

Researchers from the University of York, the University of Liverpool and Newcastle University reviewed evidence on the impact loneliness has on heart disease and stroke risk.

They examined 23 relevant studies, involving more than 181,000 adults, where 4,628 coronary heart disease and 3,002 stroke "events" were recorded and published the results in the journal Heart.

After analysing the data they found that loneliness and isolation were associated with a 29% increase in risk for coronary heart disease and a 32% increase in risk of stroke.

Previous research has already linked loneliness and social isolation to premature death but until now the size of the associated risk to cardiovascular health was unclear.

Dr Kellie Payne, from the Campaign to End Loneliness, said: "The effect of loneliness and isolation on mortality exceeds the impact of well-known risk factors such as obesity and cigarette smoking and this research helps to highlight yet further the need for loneliness to be treated as a serious public health issue.

"Loneliness is becoming a silent epidemic in our society. It's the responsibility of our community as a whole to tackle it."