Loneliness can kill: Cardiac patients who are lonely ‘more likely to die’

Nov 05, 2019
Research shows that lonely patients with heart problems are more likely to die from heart disease. Source: Getty

It turns out that being lonely can have deadly consequences as new research has found that lonely patients with cardiovascular problems are more likely to die from heart disease.

Heart disease, which is an umbrella term given to conditions that impact the heart – including coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, cardiac arrest, congestive heart failure and stroke – currently kills around 17.3 million people worldwide each year and claims the life of one Australian every 28 minutes.

The research, which was published in BMJ journal Heart, found cardiac patients who feel lonely are at a greater risk of dying within a year of being discharged from hospital.

The explore this further, the researchers looked at the one-year outcomes of patients admitted to a specialist heart centre with either coronary heart disease, abnormal heart rhythm, heart failure or valve disease. Most of them (70 per cent) were men, and their average age was 66.

Just over half the participants – 13,443 – completed validated questionnaires on their physical health, psychological wellbeing, anxiety and depression levels and quality of life as they were discharged.

They found that loneliness was associated with significant poorer physical health after a year. For example, lonely women were nearly three times as likely to have died from any cause after a year compared to those who didn’t feel lonely.

Meanwhile, lonely men were more than twice as likely to have died from any cause. Loneliness was also linked with a higher risk (39 per cent) of poor cardiac health among men.

The researchers added it was no clear which came first – the illness or the feelings of loneliness.

“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 write.

Meanwhile, it comes after a previous study found that social isolation can increase the risk of a heart attack for those living with pre-existing cardiovascular disease. Finnish and UK researchers from the University of Helsinki in Finland found that cardiovascular patients are more likely to have a recurring heart attack or stroke if they are socially isolates.

The findings, published in BMJ journal Heart did not apply to new cases of cardiovascular disease, which were still largely caused by health and lifestyle issues. For their study, researchers analysed data from 480,000 people aged between 40 and 69, who were all part of the UK Biobank study between 2007 and 2010. They assessed the role health factors other than loneliness played in the decline of heart disease and cardiovascular conditions.

Each participant was required to provide vital information to assist with the study, including their ethnic background, educational attainment, household income, lifestyle choices such as whether they smoked, drank alcohol and exercise habits, as well as any depressive symptoms. Participants were also asked a series of questions to measure their levels of social isolation and loneliness. Health was then tracked for around seven years.

The results found that 9 per cent of respondents were socially isolated and 6 per cent were lonely, while a further 1 per cent of participants were both isolated and lonely. The findings also discovered that people who were lonely or socially isolated were more likely to have other underlying long-term conditions and to be smokers, while people found to be lonely were at greater risk of depressive symptoms.

During the seven years of analysis, 2,478 deaths were reordered, while 5,731 people had a first time heart attack and 3,471 experiencing a stroke for the first time. Researchers found that people who were socially isolated were 43 per cent more likely to experience a first time heart attack when factors of age, sex and ethnicity were also considered.

Important information: The information provided on this website is of a general nature and information purposes only. It does not take into account your personal health requirements or existing medical conditions. It is not personalised health advice and must not be relied upon as such. Before making any decisions about your health or changes to medication, diet and exercise routines you should determine whether the information is appropriate in terms of your particular circumstances and seek advice from a medical professional.

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