Social isolation puts women at higher risk of hypertension

October 28, 2020

It's no secret that loneliness and social isolation have a negative impact on the mental and physical health of older adults. Now, researchers at the University of British Columbia are discovering that social isolation affects the health of men and women in different ways--including placing women at higher risk of high blood pressure.

In a study recently published in the Journal of Hypertension, researchers discovered that middle aged and older women who lacked social ties were much more likely than men to suffer from hypertension--a known risk factor for heart disease, which is the leading cause of death among women--and stroke.

"Among older adults, social isolation is the largest known risk factor for mortality, equal only to smoking," said principal investigator Annalijn Conklin, assistant professor in the faculty of pharmaceutical sciences at UBC and researcher with the Centre for Health Evaluation and Outcome Sciences. "Less well known is how social isolation affects men and women differently, or how it affects biomarkers of longevity. Our research indicates that women, in particular, are more likely to be hypertensive when they experience isolation in middle and older age."

Using data from the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging, these researchers analyzed the social ties of 28,238 adults aged 45 to 85, and found that women who were non-partnered, engaged in fewer than three social activities a month, or had a small social network (fewer than 85 contacts) had higher odds of hypertension. Average systolic blood pressure was highest among widowed, lone-living and socially inactive women, and the largest difference in blood pressure was between widowed and married women. Widowed women were found to have the strongest likelihood of hypertension across all categories.

Among men, the picture was quite different. Those who were single, shared a home with others, and had the largest social networks had the highest blood pressure, while those who had smaller networks and lived alone had lower blood pressure.

The researchers found that combinations of different social ties also mattered. Regular social participation appeared to have a protective effect among non-partnered women, suggesting that health care providers may want to screen for the number of monthly social activities, and include these alongside healthy diet and exercise when treating non-partnered older women.

"Among women, the increase in blood pressure that was associated with the lack of social ties was similar to that seen with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory use, increased sodium diets pollution or weight gain," said Conklin. "This represents a significant women-specific risk factor for heart disease or stroke."

Previous research by Conklin using the same data set found that women who were single, widowed, divorced or separated had higher odds of abdominal and general obesity, while men were less likely to be obese if they lived alone and had a smaller social network.

"Taken with our previous research, our new findings underline how social isolation affects health in men and women differently," said Conklin. "At a time when COVID-19 is forcing us to limit our social interactions, it's important for those working in health care and public health to encourage older women, in particular, to find new ways to be socially active."

Zeinab Hosseini, the lead author who contributed to the work as a former postdoctoral fellow at UBC says more studies are needed on how exactly social connections impact cardiovascular risk factors. "Prospective and intervention studies can help us understand this as well as why the associations are different for women compared to men," she said.
-end-
The study was co-authored by UBC sociology professor Gerry Veenstra and UBC medicine professor Dr. Nadia Khan, and funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

University of British Columbia

Related Heart Disease Articles from Brightsurf:

Cellular pathway of genetic heart disease similar to neurodegenerative disease
Research on a genetic heart disease has uncovered a new and unexpected mechanism for heart failure.

Mechanism linking gum disease to heart disease, other inflammatory conditions discovered
The link between periodontal (gum) disease and other inflammatory conditions such as heart disease and diabetes has long been established, but the mechanism behind that association has, until now, remained a mystery.

New 'atlas' of human heart cells first step toward precision treatments for heart disease
Scientists have for the first time documented all of the different cell types and genes expressed in the healthy human heart, in research published in the journal Nature.

With a heavy heart: How men and women develop heart disease differently
A new study by researchers from McGill University has uncovered that minerals causing aortic heart valve blockage in men and women are different, a discovery that could change how heart disease is diagnosed and treated.

Heart-healthy diets are naturally low in dietary cholesterol and can help to reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke
Eating a heart-healthy dietary pattern rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy products, poultry, fish, legumes, vegetable oils and nuts, which is also limits salt, red and processed meats, refined-carbohydrates and added sugars, is relatively low in dietary cholesterol and supports healthy levels of artery-clogging LDL cholesterol.

Pacemakers can improve heart function in patients with chemotherapy-induced heart disease
Research has shown that treating chemotherapy-induced cardiomyopathy with commercially available cardiac resynchronization therapy (CRT) delivered through a surgically implanted defibrillator or pacemaker can significantly improve patient outcomes.

Arsenic in drinking water may change heart structure raising risk of heart disease
Drinking water that is contaminated with arsenic may lead to thickening of the heart's main pumping chamber in young adults, according to a new study by researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

New health calculator can help predict heart disease risk, estimate heart age
A new online health calculator can help people determine their risk of heart disease, as well as their heart age, accounting for sociodemographic factors such as ethnicity, sense of belonging and education, as well as health status and lifestyle behaviors.

Wide variation in rate of death between VA hospitals for patients with heart disease, heart failure
Death rates for veterans with ischemic heart disease and chronic heart failure varied widely across the Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system from 2010 to 2014, which could suggest differences in the quality of cardiovascular health care provided by VA medical centers.

Heart failure: The Alzheimer's disease of the heart?
Similar to how protein clumps build up in the brain in people with some neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, protein clumps appear to accumulate in the diseased hearts of mice and people with heart failure, according to a team led by Johns Hopkins University researchers.

Read More: Heart Disease News and Heart Disease Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.