Loneliness Itself Bad for Heart Health and a Significant Factor in Premature Death, Research Finds

It’s a health problem in its own right.

Loneliness is bad for the heart and a strong predictor of premature death, according to a study presented today at EuroHeartCare 2018, the European Society of Cardiology’s annual nursing congress. The study found that feeling lonely was a stronger predictor of poor outcomes than living alone, in both men and women.

“Loneliness is more common today than ever before, and more people live alone,” said Anne Vinggaard Christensen, study author and PhD student, The Heart Centre, Copenhagen University Hospital, Denmark. “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.”

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Feeling lonely was associated with poor outcomes in all patients regardless of their type of heart disease, and even after adjusting for age, level of education, other diseases, body mass index, smoking, and alcohol intake. Loneliness was associated with a doubled mortality risk in women and nearly doubled risk in men. Both men and women who felt lonely were three times more likely to report symptoms of anxiety and depression, and had a significantly lower quality of life than those who did not feel lonely.

“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,” said Ms Vinggaard Christensen.

Ms Vinggaard Christensen noted that people with poor social support may have worse health outcomes because they have unhealthier lifestyles, are less compliant with treatment, and are more affected by stressful events. But she said: “We adjusted for lifestyle behaviours and many other factors in our analysis, and still found that loneliness is bad for health.”

Loneliness Can Damage Health, Can Possibly Cause Neurological Problems

Loneliness is often a serious problem in an industrialized society. If you’re really feeling down, you can send me an email or try to contact me otherwise, for whatever that’s worth. I know the struggle of isolation all too well, and I therefore feel some responsibility for trying to help others through that.

It turns out that feeling lonely can do more than make you sad: It can predict the way your body will respond to and bounce back from various health challenges. Lonely people are more likely to get sick, and researchers want to know why.

Three of them recently spoke about the current state of loneliness research and how scientists are responding. You can listen to their discussion on Aspen Ideas to Go, the podcast of the Aspen Ideas Festival, or watch the discussion online.

The 40-minute conversation covers such topics as what loneliness seems to do in the body — including increased inflammation and neurological and genetic changes — and how health-care providers are reacting.

For years, researchers have linked loneliness to poor health. People who say that they’re lonely are more likely to have dementia and inflammation, and to die prematurely. And in research presented to the American Psychological Association this summer, Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a professor at Brigham Young University who participated on the Aspen panel, posited that loneliness is a bigger public health risk than obesity.