London: Loneliness among cardiac patients is linked with increased risk of dying within the first year of being discharged from the hospital, according to a study. The study, published in the journal Heart, noted that loneliness was associated with a significantly increased risk of mortality among women and men.
The researchers, including those from Copenhagen University Hospital in Denmark, looked at the health outcomes of patients after a year of admission to a specialist heart centre with either coronary heart disease, abnormal heart rhythm, heart failure, or valve disease in the period between 2013-14. The study noted that most of the patients — 70 per cent — were men, and their average age was 66.
More than 13,000 patients (53 per cent of the total number) completed validated questionnaires on their physical health, psychological wellbeing, and their levels of anxiety and depression. The patients were also quizzed about health behaviours, including smoking, drinking, and how often they took their prescribed medicines.
The researchers used national data to find out if the patients lived alone or with other people. The results of the study revealed that patients who said they felt lonely were nearly three times as likely to be anxious and depressed, and to report a significantly lower quality of life compared to those who said they didn’t feel lonely.
When the researchers checked the national data to find out the patients’ cardiac health after discharge, they found that irrespective of the diagnosis, loneliness was associated with significantly poorer physical health after a year. The study noted that living alone wasn’t associated with feeling lonely, but was linked to a lower risk of anxiety or depression than in those who lived with other people.
Loneliness was associated with a higher risk of poor cardiac health among men, the study said. The researchers added that women have larger social networks than men, so separation, divorce, or the death of a partner may disadvantage men more. They cautioned however, that the study was only observational, and does not establish the cause-effect relationship between loneliness and heart health.
It’s not clear whether the illness or the feelings of loneliness came first, the researchers said. “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 can impact negative health outcomes,” the researchers wrote in the study.