Social isolation can be a killer, and not merely in the figurative sense. Loneliness may actually cause premature death by damaging the heart, according to a new study. The research suggested that feeling loneliness may double a person’s risk of dying of cardiovascular disease.
“Loneliness is more common today than ever before, and more people live alone,” Anne Vinggaard Christensen, study author and a PhD student at The Heart Centre at the Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark, said in a statement. “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.”
Not surprisingly, the study also showed a correlation between loneliness and increased symptoms of anxiety and depression. The team of Danish researchers presented their results at the European Society of Cardiology’s annual nursing conference over the weekend.
The study was based on data collected from 13,463 patients who suffered from either ischaemic heart disease, an abnormal heart rhythm, heart failure or heart valve disease. The results were based on a survey in which patients answered questions about their physical and mental health. They were also asked to describe their levels of social support. Levels of loneliness were evaluated with questions such as, “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?”
Other risk factors considered included other diseases, high body fat, smoking and drinking alcohol, Forbes reported. “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 author said. “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.”