- A new study has found a link between loneliness and increased risk of death from heart problems.
- Researchers found people with heart diseases were more likely to die if they had poor social connections.
- Loneliness can have a detrimental impact on both our minds and bodies.
- And going through tough moments in life, including disease, can be even harder without a support network.
Our hearts can sometimes respond dramatically to our emotional state. For example, Broken Heart Syndrome is when heartbreak triggers sudden, intense chest pain, which can lead to severe heart muscle failure – despite the heart being otherwise healthy.
According to a new study, presented last weekend at EuroHeartCare 2018, the European Society of Cardiology’s annual nursing congress, loneliness can be a strong predictor of dying too soon.
The research, led by Anne Vinggaard Christensen, a PhD student at The Heart Centre, Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark, investigated whether loneliness was associated with worse health in 13,463 people with various heart problems. Researchers used data from questionnaires the patients had filled out about their physical and mental health, lifestyle, smoking habits, and friendships.
Specifically, friendship questions were based around living alone, whether they felt lonely, and whether they felt they had someone to talk to. It was important to collect a wide range of information, because being lonely and being alone are not the same thing.
“Loneliness is more common today than ever before, and more people live alone,” said 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.”
This was true regardless of the type of heart disease, and even when the results were adjusted to take into account the patient’s age, level of education, other health problems and diseases, BMI, smoking, and alcohol intake. Overall, loneliness was associated with a doubled risk of death for women, and nearly double for men.
Both men and women who felt lonely were three times more likely to report being anxious or depressed, and their quality of life was significantly lower. Vinggaard Christensen said it could be because people with poor social support could look after themselves less, in terms of taking their medicine and their lifestyle, but the results strongly support the hypothesis that loneliness is to blame.
“We live in a time when loneliness is more present and health providers should take this into account when assessing risk,” she said.
The new study supports previous research that has shown how loneliness can impact our health in a serious way. For example, one study found how scoring low on social support can carry a similar health risk as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Another showed how it can increase inflammation, because our bodies may still perceive being alone as a threat – dating back to our caveman days.
Whatever the physiological reasons, it is clear loneliness is detrimental to our physical and mental health. We are social animals, and if our social lives aren’t fulfilling us to the level we desire, the tough moments in life can feel even harder.