Loneliness is bad for the heart and a strong predictor of premature death, a new study presented at EuroHeartCare 2018 suggests.
Loneliness and social isolation are an ever-growing complex challenge in society, with Beaumont reporting in 2013 that 59% of adults aged over 52 with poor health say they feel lonely often. This new study has presented concerns about the effect it has on the heart and risk of premature death.
Anne Vinggaard Christensen, study author and PhD student, The Heart Centre, Copenhagen University Hospital, Denmark, commented: “Loneliness is more common today than ever before, and more people live alone.
“Previous research has shown that loneliness and social isolation are linked with coronary heart disease and stroke, but this has not been investigated in patients with different types of cardiovascular disease.”
Can loneliness affect an underlying condition?
The study investigated over 13,000 patients with ischaemic heart disease, arrhythmia, heart failure or heart valve disease and whether a poor social network was associated with an exacerbation of these conditions.
Five health centres in Denmark had patients answer a questionnaire about their physical and mental health, as well as lifestyle factors such as smoking and social support.
Social support was measured using registry data on living alone or not, and survey questions about feeling lonely:
- Do you have someone to talk to when you need it? and
- Do you feel alone sometimes even though you want to be with someone?
Christensen added: “It was important to collect information on both, since people may live alone but not feel lonely while others cohabit but do feel lonely.”
What did the study find?
Feeling lonely was associated with poor outcomes in all patients regardless of their type of heart disease.
Loneliness was associated with a doubled mortality risk in women and nearly doubled risk in men. Both men and women who felt lonely were three times more likely to report symptoms of anxiety and depression and had a significantly lower quality of life than those who did not feel lonely.
“Loneliness is a strong predictor of premature death, worse mental health, and lower quality of life in patients with cardiovascular disease, and a much stronger predictor than living alone, in both men and women,” Christensen continued.
Taking social support into account
She concluded: “We live in a time when loneliness is more present and health providers should take this into account when assessing risk.
“Our study shows that asking two questions about social support provides a lot of information about the likelihood of having poor health outcomes.”
The study found that feeling lonely was a stronger predictor of poor outcomes than living alone.