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Loneliness Linked to Exacerbating Physical Illnesses

Update Date: Feb 25, 2013 02:33 PM EST

Loneliness has been known as a contributing factor to several mental health disorders, but according to new research, loneliness may also be linked to physical illnesses. Doctors have observed that loneliness played a huge factor in developing depression, anxiety and stress disorders, and a lack of self esteem. Based off of this information, researchers were curious as to how loneliness may contribute to the development of physical diseases and whether or not loneliness affected the severity of the diseases.

Researchers conducted a study in 2006 with 2,800 women diagnosed with breast cancer.  The participants were asked questions regarding family and friends and those that appeared to have fewer interactions with others were five times more likely to die from the disease. However, the researchers have not concluded as to why this is the case but many doctors and psychologists have developed theories to help explain how loneliness can negatively affect diseases. 

Psychologists from the University of Chicago and Ohio State University linked changes to a person's immune system to isolation. According to the psychologists, people who were socially isolated tended to develop chronic inflammation, which is helpful for short term incidences in which the inflammation heals cuts or infections. However, once chronic inflammation becomes a long term ordeal, it can lead to cardiovascular disease and cancer. At the University of Chicago, other researchers reported that lonely people tend to be more stressed performing every day activities, and stress can strain the physical body as well. This particular study found that breast cancer patients who were lonely also suffered from higher levels of inflammation, which could have been a contributing factor to death. 

With this new research connecting loneliness to physical diseases, it stresses the importance of monitoring the elderly who tend to be prone to loneliness. Within the United Kingdom, roughly half of the elderly 75 years-old and above reported to live alone with one in 10 of them suffering from intense loneliness. Now that doctors and scientists acknowledge the role of loneliness, more research can be aimed towards dealing with loneliness and it effects it has on people.

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