A recent study conducted by the European Society Of Cardiology (ESC) has shown that loneliness is bad for the heart in more ways than one.
The research revealed that feeling lonely can damage your heart particularly if you’re already suffering from cardiovascular disease and might actually end up putting you in an early grave.
The results, presented today at ESC’s annual nursing congress, EuroHeartCare 2018, show that loneliness is “a strong predictor for premature death” and that heart patients who feel lonely have more chances of poor cardiovascular outcomes than people with heart disease who simply live alone, Science Daily reports.
According to study author Anne Vinggaard Christensen, from The Heart Centre at the Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark, more and more people fall prey to loneliness today than ever before and this has a profound impact on their health.
“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,” she said.
Vinggaard Christensen, who is a Ph.D. student at the University of Copenhagen, wanted to find out if cardiovascular patients can have their heart health affected by feeling lonesome and not having a strong social support system.
Her research followed almost 13,500 patients suffering from a wide array of cardiovascular problems, such as ischemic heart disease, arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm), heart failure, or heart valve disease.
These patients had all been admitted into five heart centers from Denmark, from which they were discharged between April 2013 and April 2014, and received a questionnaire upon leaving the hospital.
Called the DenHeart survey, the questionnaire was aimed at gleaning info on the subjects’ physical and mental health, and contained topics related to lifestyle factors, such as smoking or drinking, as well as social interactions. The respondents were asked whether they lived alone, felt lonely, or had someone to talk to when they needed support.
“It was important to collect information on both, since people may live alone but not feel lonely while others cohabit but do feel lonely,” said Vinggaard Christensen.
The results were a true eye-opener and showed that loneliness was linked to poor health outcomes in cardiovascular patients even after accounting for factors such as body mass index, smoking, alcohol intake, age, and type of heart disease.
As Vinggaard Christensen explains, heart patients that are plagued by loneliness are much worse off than those simply living in an empty house.
“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.”
The study showed that loneliness doubled women’s mortality risk and nearly doubled the chances of fatality in men. In addition, feeling lonely increased the likelihood of anxiety and depression by threefold, lowering the quality of life.
Vinggaard Christensen argues that the patients’ social support system should be factored in when healthcare providers assess their 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,” she said.