Social isolation puts middle-aged and older women at higher risk of hypertension, study suggests
Experts believe that while a family history of hypertension cannot be avoided, the other lifestyle risk factors can and must be regulated to keep hypertension at bay
Hypertension (high blood pressure) is a key risk factor for heart diseases, which is one of the main reasons why preventing hypertension, or managing it better if you have it, is very important. Apart from genetic factors, obesity, poor diet, diabetes, physical inactivity, tobacco use and alcohol abuse are some of the main risk factors associated with hypertension.
Experts believe that while a family history of hypertension cannot be avoided, the other lifestyle risk factors can and must be regulated to keep hypertension at bay. However, a shortcoming in this respect is that the associations between social isolation and hypertension are not yet well-explored.
The health effects of social isolation
According to research conducted by the US National Institute on Aging (NIA), social isolation is linked to a higher risk for a variety of physical and mental health issues like hypertension, heart disease, obesity, weak immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline and even death. This research suggests that those who find themselves unexpectedly isolated due to the death of a loved one, separation from society, loss of mobility, etc are particularly at risk of health issues.
It is important, this study notes, to understand that social isolation is not the same as loneliness. Social isolation is the objective physical separation from other people, while loneliness is a subjective and distressing feeling of being alone or separated. This is the reason why people can feel lonely even when they are surrounded by other people. The NIA study highlights the fact that social isolation can have a deeper, more negative effect on your health than loneliness does.
Social isolation and hypertension links
A new study published in the Journal of Hypertension suggests that not only are social isolation and hypertension linked but also that women are more at risk of developing hypertension due to social isolation. The study, conducted by researchers from the University of British Columbia, Canada, used data from the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging.
The researchers collected the data of 28,238 adults aged between 45-85 years and the blood pressure (BP) of each participant was measured using an automated BpTRU device. Hypertension was defined as BP above 140/90 mmHg and BP above 130/80 mmHg was considered to be the definition of hypertension for participants with diabetes.
The researchers found that having no life partner, limited social participation (two or less social activities per month) or a small social network size was associated with a higher risk of hypertension among women than men. The risk of hypertension was observed to be higher among widowed women when compared to married women. For the male participants, living alone was linked to lower odds of hypertension. The study also found that the risk of hypertension among single or divorced men and women was reduced considerably by increasing the levels of social participation, especially among women.
The study, therefore, concludes that social ties are more strongly associated with hypertension for middle-aged and older-aged women rather than men. Non-partnered women and men who are co-living represent the at-risk groups for hypertension. The researchers recommend that healthcare professionals consider these social factors along with individual health factors while providing advice regarding hypertension and cardiovascular disease prevention to their patients.
For more information, read our article on Hypertension.
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