Quick Study

Loneliness may lead to higher blood pressure readings

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


Loneliness may lead to higher readings.

THE QUESTION Feeling lonely has been shown to affect sleep, mental health and thinking abilities. Might it also alter people's blood pressure?

THIS STUDY analyzed data on 229 adults 50 and older (average age 58 at the start of the study). Every year for five years, their physical and psychological health was evaluated through standardized testing and interviewing. This included blood pressure measurements and questions on social interactions and perceptions of loneliness. Blood pressure readings increased, on average, for all participants in the five-year span, but more so for those deemed lonely at the start. By the end of the study, systolic blood pressure (the top number) had increased 14.4 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) more for the loneliest people than for the least lonely.

WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? People 50 and older. Research has found that, at any given time, a fourth to a third of adults consider themselves lonely.

CAVEATS The study found that the link between loneliness and higher blood pressure was independent of factors that could affect blood pressure, including smoking, alcohol use, weight, race and income; whether other things, such as access to health care, might have played a role, was not determined. The study did not show whether reducing loneliness might also lower blood pressure levels.

FIND THIS STUDY March issue of Psychology and Aging.

LEARN MORE ABOUT high blood pressure at http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health and http://www.familydoctor.org.

-- Linda Searing

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company