Lonely Heart Patients Are at a Higher Risk of Death
Mon, April 19, 2021

Lonely Heart Patients Are at a Higher Risk of Death

Loneliness among heart patients after being discharged from the hospital can increase the risk of death, new research reveals / Photo by: ximagination via 123RF

 

Loneliness among heart patients after being discharged from the hospital can increase the risk of death, new research reveals. The study, published in the online journal Heart, further explored the association between loneliness and poor social support with a heightened risk of developing and dying from coronary artery disease.

The results of the study prompted the researchers to conclude that public health initiatives should prioritize loneliness and consider it a legitimate health risk among people with a serious illness.

 

Lonely Patients Are More Depressed and Anxious

In their investigation, the researchers looked at the health outcomes of patients after being admitted with coronary heart disease, abnormal heart rhythm, heart failure, or valve disease from 2013 to 2014. About 70 percent of the patients were men with an average age of 66.

Upon their discharge, 13,443 of the patients completed surveys about their physical health, psychological wellbeing, and quality of life, and their levels of anxiety and depression. They were also asked about their health behaviors (e.g. smoking and drinking) and the frequency of their medicine intake.

The researchers used national data to determine if the patients lived alone or not, reported Science Daily, an American website that aggregates press releases and publishes lightly edited press releases about science.

Patients who said they felt lonely were found to be nearly three times more likely to become anxious and depressed / Photo by: Suphaporn Japimai via 123RF

 

Patients who said they felt lonely were found to be nearly three times more likely to become anxious and depressed. They also report notably a lower quality of life compared to patients who said they didn't feel lonely. Loneliness was also associated with significantly poorer physical health after a year, regardless of the diagnosis.

"After taking account of potentially influential factors including health behaviors, lonely women were nearly three times as likely to have died from any cause after a year as women who didn't feel lonely," Science Daily said. "Similarly, lonely men were more than twice as likely to have died from any cause."

The stark disparities in risk among those who feel lonely and those who didn't indicate that health-related behaviors and underlying conditions are not the sole explanations for the associations found in the study, the researchers said.

Living Alone

While being alone is associated with heightened risks of heart disease and mortality, it was interesting to see that it was not the case for patients who live alone. British daily newspaper The Independent reported that people living by themselves helped reduce the risk of anxiety symptoms.

However, living alone was linked to a 39 percent higher risk of poor cardiac health among men. The Independent added that earlier studies suggested women have larger social networks compared to men, meaning women are put at an advantage when they separate, divorce, or deal with the death of their partner.

The researchers noted that their study was observational and cannot establish the cause.

"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," they said. "There are indications that the burden of loneliness and social isolation is growing."

The results also suggested loneliness influences poor health outcomes equivalent to the risk associated with severe obesity, the researchers noted, concluding that public health efforts should focus on reducing the feeling of loneliness among patients.

Importance of Social Relationships

Earlier studies provided evidence indicating the importance of having social relationships to fight against the risks of diseases and death due to loneliness and lack of social support. A systematic review in 2016 concluded that poor social relationships were associated with a 29 percent increase in the risk of coronary heart disease and a 32 percent increase in the risk of stroke. Another study also linked loneliness with a heightened risk of cardiovascular disease by 27 percent.

A lack of social support was also found to play a role in the progression of cardiovascular disease and that poor social support negatively affected cardiac and all-cause mortality.

"The explanation for the link between loneliness and health includes different pathways," the researchers said. "One pathway is behavioral as the existence of social relationships has a direct health effect because it promotes healthy behavior such as exercise, healthy eating, not smoking, and greater adherence to medical regimens."

They added that feeling lonely impairs the capacity to self-regulate as well as reduces the chances of participating in physical activity and is a risk factor for obesity. Such differences become more evident as a person ages when the effects of poor health begin to show.

The other pathways are psychological and biological, in which social relationships increase the feelings of safety and trust as well as hinder the harmful effects of stress.

"Furthermore, it is possible that social support helps reduce exposure to stressful events. The pathways may impact each other and affect biological processes with an impact on surrogate biological markers."

What these aforementioned studies prove is that loneliness can be deadly especially for people who have health conditions. It is therefore imperative for family and friends to do what they can to make sure that the loved one with a condition doesn’t feel neglected and lonely.

A lack of social support was also found to play a role in the progression of cardiovascular disease and that poor social support negatively affected cardiac and all-cause mortality / Photo by: Alexander Raths via 123RF