Loneliness linked to high blood pressure

Updated: Mar 19, 2010, 00:00 AM IST

Washington: Loneliness is directly linked
to high blood pressure in people, especially senior citizens,
American scientists have claimed.

According to a new study at the University of Chicago,
chronic feelings of loneliness take a toll on blood pressure
over time, causing a marked increase after four years.

A new study shows, for the first time, a direct
relation between loneliness and larger increases in blood
pressure -- a link that is independent of age and other
factors that could cause blood pressure to rise, including
body-mass index, smoking and alcohol use.

The researchers also looked at the possibility that
depression and stress might account for the increase but found
that those factors did not fully explain the increase in blood
pressure among lonely, especially people 50 years and older.

"Loneliness behaved as though it is a unique
health-risk factor in its own right," lead researcher Louise
Hawkley wrote in the journal Psychology and Aging.

High blood pressure, often called a silent threat as it
has few symptoms, undermines health in many ways. It increases
the risk for heart attack and stroke and impairs kidney

Like blood pressure, loneliness is sometimes not easy
to detect. People who have many friends and a social network
can feel lonely if they find their relationships unsatisfying,
Hawkley said, adding conversely, people who live rather
solitary lives may not be lonely if their few relationships
are meaningful and rewarding.

The team based its research on a study of 229 people
aged 50 to 68. Members of the group were asked a series of
questions to determine if they perceived themselves as lonely.

During the five-year study, Hawkley found a clear
connection between feelings of loneliness reported at the
beginning of the study and rising blood pressure over that

"The increase associated with loneliness wasn`t
observable until two years into the study, but then continued
to increase until four years later," she said.

Even people with modest levels of loneliness were
impacted. Among all the people in the sample, the loneliest
people saw their blood pressure go up by 14.4 mm more than the
blood pressure of their most socially contented counterparts
over the four-year study period.

Lonely people`s apprehension about social connections
may underlie the blood pressure increase.

"Loneliness is characterised by a motivational impulse
to connect with others but also a fear of negative evaluation,
rejection and disappointment," Hawkley said.

"We hypothesise that threats to one`s sense of safety
and security with others are toxic components of loneliness,
and that hypervigilance for social threat may contribute to
alterations in physiological functioning, including elevated
blood pressure."