Washington: Cardiac patients who tend to feel lonely are more likely to die in a year of getting discharged from the hospital, a new study highlighted.
While lonely men were twice more likely to die compared to those who aren’t; women were at nearly three times higher risk of dying than other women who aren’t lonely.
Loneliness should be prioritised in public health initiatives and regarded as a legitimate health risk in people who have a serious illness, researchers stated in the study published in the journal Heart.
Previous research suggests that loneliness and poor social support are associated with a heightened risk of developing and dying from, coronary artery disease. But it’s not clear if other types of heart disease might also be influenced by feelings of loneliness, and if living alone might be as influential as feeling lonely.
To explore this further, researchers looked at the one-year health outcomes of patients admitted to a specialist heart centre with either ischaemic (coronary) heart disease, abnormal heart rhythm, heart failure or valve disease, over the course of a year in 2013-14.
Most of them (70 per cent) were men with an average age of 66.
On discharge from the centre, 13,443 (53 per cent of the total) completed validated questionnaires on their physical health, psychological wellbeing, and quality of life and their levels of anxiety and depression (HADS).
Moreover, the patients were also quizzed about health behaviours, including smoking, drinking, and how often they took their prescribed medicines.
National data were used to find out if they lived alone or with other people.
Those who said they felt lonely were nearly three times as likely to be anxious and depressed and to report a significantly lower quality of life as those who said they didn’t feel lonely.
One year later, researchers checked national registry data to see what had happened to the patients’ cardiac health, as well as how many of them had died.
They found that irrespective of the diagnosis, loneliness was associated with significantly poorer physical health after a year.
After taking account of potentially influential factors, including health behaviours, lonely women were nearly three times as likely to have died from any cause after a year as women who didn’t feel lonely.
Similarly, lonely men were more than twice as likely to have died from any cause.
The significant differences in risk between those who felt lonely and those who didn’t, suggest that health-related behaviours and underlying conditions can’t fully explain the associations found, said, researchers.
Although living alone wasn’t associated with feeling lonely, it was associated with a lower risk of anxiety/depression than in those who lived with other people.
And it was associated with a higher (39 per cent) risk of poor cardiac health among men.
Previous studies indicate that women have larger social networks than men, so separation, divorce, or the death of a partner may disadvantage men more, suggest the researchers, by way of an explanation for this particular finding.
This is an observational study, and as such, can’t establish a cause.
“However, the findings are in line with previous research, suggesting that loneliness is associated with changes in cardiovascular, neuroendocrine and immune function as well as unhealthy lifestyle choices which impact negative health outcomes,” the researchers stated.