By Dr. Naveed Adoni and Dr. Ken Fujise

This Valentine’s Day, thank your loved ones for the company and good cheer they provide. A lonely heart can result in a sick heart, as multiple studies have shown.

There is strong evidence that loneliness and social isolation are associated with adverse heart health. Loneliness and social isolation are comparable to smoking, high blood pressure, obesity and lack of physical activity as risk factors for chronic heart disease and heart disease mortality.

Among otherwise healthy individuals, those with fewer social interactions and smaller social networks have been shown to have increased risk of cardiovascular events and cardiovascular mortality. Cardiovascular events include heart attacks which usually manifest with chest pain, but it is very important to note that heart attacks in women can present differently with symptoms other than chest pain, including shortness of breath, dizziness, fainting, extreme fatigue or pain or pressure in the upper back, lower chest or upper abdomen.

In a comprehensive heart study, 749 women free of heart disease were given a baseline interview inquiring about different psychosocial variables. They were followed for the next 20 years for the occurrence of heart attacks and heart-related death. Women who indicated presence of daytime loneliness in the initial interview were significantly more likely to have heart attacks or die from heart-related causes.

The risk among those women was higher when other high-risk factors such as diabetes, elevated blood pressure, cigarette smoking and obesity were present in that group.

Other studies also have shown that even brief periods of loneliness, such as when a child is gone for the summer, can trigger in women diseases of the heart muscle, such as an enlarged and weakened heart, or cardiomyopathy.

Just answering yes to the question “Do you feel lonely?” has been associated with increased cardiovascular mortality. The simple fact of agreeing to the statement “I feel lonely” was associated with poorer survival after cardiac bypass surgery both at 30 days and at five years after the surgery.

So on this Valentine’s Day, seek out those bereft of company and those lonely around you and give them the gift of your companionship and your good cheer. And, in turn, thank your friends and dear ones for the cheer they provide and the good they literally do to your heart.

Dr. Naveed Adoni is chief interventional cardiology fellow at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. Dr. Ken Fujise is head of the UTMB division of cardiology.