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Loneliness, social isolation and risk of cardiovascular disease in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing

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JournalEuropean journal of preventive cardiology
DateAccepted/In press - 14 Jul 2018
DateE-pub ahead of print - 2 Aug 2018
DatePublished (current) - Sep 2018
Issue number13
Number of pages10
Pages (from-to)1387-1396
Early online date2/08/18
Original languageEnglish


Background: There is increasing evidence of an association between social relationships and morbidity in general, and cardiovascular disease in particular. However, recent syntheses of the evidence raise two important questions: is it the perceived quality or the more objective quantity of relationships that matters most; and what are the implications of changes in relationships over time? In this study, we investigate the cumulative effects of loneliness and social isolation on incident cardiovascular disease. Design: A secondary analysis of prospective follow-up data from the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA). Methods: To assess the association between social isolation or loneliness and incident cardiovascular disease, lagged values of exposure to loneliness and isolation were treated as time-varying variables in discrete time survival models controlling for potential confounders and established cardiovascular disease risk factors. Results: A total of 5397 men and women aged over 50 years were followed up for new fatal and non-fatal diagnoses of heart disease and stroke between 2004 and 2010. Over a mean follow-up period of 5.4 years, 571 new cardiovascular events were recorded. We found that loneliness was associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease (odds ratio 1.27, 95% confidence interval 1.01–1.57). Social isolation, meanwhile, was not associated with disease incidence. There was no evidence of a cumulative effect over time of social relationships on cardiovascular disease risk. Conclusions: Loneliness is associated with an increased risk of developing coronary heart disease and stroke, independently of traditional cardiovascular disease risk factors. Our findings suggest that primary prevention strategies targeting loneliness could help to prevent cardiovascular disease.

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©The European Society of Cardiology 2018. This is an author-produced version of the published paper. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher’s self-archiving policy. Further copying may not be permitted; contact the publisher for details.

    Research areas

  • Cardiovascular disease, longitudinal studies, social epidemiology

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