Social isolation has been cited as a factor in the untimely and self-inflicted deaths of celebrity personalities like Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain in recent weeks, but loneliness can also be bad for the heart in not just a figurative psychological sense, but physically as well.
A study presented Saturday at the European Society of Cardiology’s annual nursing conference finds that people who feel lonely are at a higher risk of premature death from heart disease.
“Loneliness is more common today than ever before, and more people live alone,” explained study author Anne Vinggaard Christensen, a PhD student at Copenhagen University Hospital, in a release.
The study used survey data from 13,463 patients diagnosed with any of a handful of different types of heart disease, including ischaemic heart disease, arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm), heart failure and heart valve disease. The researchers found that female heart disease patients who also reported loneliness had double the mortality risk of those who did not. The risk of death was also nearly doubled in male patients.
Both lonely male and female patients were three times as likely to report dealing with anxiety and depression and unsurprisingly, had a much lower quality of life than those who did not feel lonely.
The questionnaire that was used made a point of asking questions to distinguish between those who felt lonely versus those who simply live alone.
“It was important to collect information on both, since people may live alone but not feel lonely while others cohabit but do feel lonely,” explained Vinggaard Christensen. “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.”
She says the study also adjusted for other risk factors people might have, like other diseases, high body mass index, smoking and alcohol intake.
“We adjusted for lifestyle behaviors and many other factors in our analysis, and still found that loneliness is bad for health.”
Vinggaard Christensen says that loneliness is a part of today’s health landscape and medical providers should ask patients about their available social support in order to better assess health risks.
“Our study shows that asking two questions about social support provides a lot of information about the likelihood of having poor health outcomes.”