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Health Tips Tuesday: impact of isolation on post-menopausal women

A new study this month found that post-menopausal women who are socially isolated have an increased risk for heart disease.
Published: Feb. 15, 2022 at 1:13 PM EST
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SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- A new study this month found that post-menopausal women who are socially isolated have an increased risk for heart disease.

Dr. Sabeen Chaudry, cardiologist at Baystate’s heart and vascular program, explained what proactive steps women can do to prevent their health.

A new study in the February 2 journal of the American Medical Association found that post-menopausal women who are socially isolated and are lonely have a 13 to 27 percent higher cardiovascular disease. How does this social isolation contribute to an increased risk of cardio vascular disease?

Chaudry: “That is a great question, so we know, not only from this study, but a number of other studies that have looked at depression, social isolation, and loneliness, that patients can have a higher risk of heart disease when those other issues exist. We don’t completely understand what the molecular mechanisms are, so what’s happening at the cellular level, but we know when people are socially isolated and when they’re lonely, they may have higher overall stress levels, they may have other types of medical issues that limit their mobility. So kidney problems, advance diabetes, they may not be as physically active, all of these overall impact their health. In the end, the concern is they’re living revved up, high-stress state and we release a lot of cortisol, which then can cause higher blood sugar levels. It can contribute to things like high blood pressure and other types of changes that increase your risk for plaque build up in your arteries. At the end, we have balance of our sympathetic and parasympathetic systems that are so important for regulating stress. A little bit of stress is good when dealing with the fight or flight method. We want to be able to challenge our bodies to address that type of event, but when your chronically under stress, then that causes all sorts of other medical problems.”

To piggy back off of that, what could post-menopausal women, who are socially isolated, do to prevent such a risk when people are isolated because of the pandemic?

Chaudry: “I really think this helps stress how important it is to have community involvement, so at the basic level, you want to take care of your own health. You want to make sure you’re staying physically active, managing other medical problems you may have. At the larger community level, it’s a great call to action to, say, join your community center, look at what your local library may be offering or your local senior center. If you are religious, faith-based groups often have many programs for seniors and then of course, making sure we are staying in touch with our family, especially in the last two years where that has been so challenging. I think this just under scores how important it is to have those personal connections. One of the tips I saw on the National Institutes of Aging was scheduling a daily time with family and friends that you use to connect wither by phone or video chat or any of the other great social media apps that may be available. I think that’s a great tip to just keep in mind. The National Institutes on Aging has some great advice as well if you are feeling lonely or socially isolated, places you can look up more information, and of course, talking with your doctor about it is another really important thing you can do too.”