A new study has found that loneliness could be a risk to health.
According to new research, heart patients who are lonely have an increased risk of death within a year of them leaving hospital.
The findings – which were published in the medical journal Heart – showed strong associations between loneliness and poor patient-reported outcomes, as well as death.
The authors of the study believe loneliness should be viewed as a ‘legitimate health risk in serious illness’ and, as a result, should be prioritised in health initiatives.
However, they also state that it’s unclear whether illness or loneliness came first for the participants.
They said, “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 study looked at the outcomes of patients who were admitted to a specialist heart centre with either coronary heart disease, abnormal heart rhythm, heart failure or valve disease. The research was carried out in Denmark from 2013-14.
More than half of the participants filled out a questionnaire detailing their physical and mental health. It covered anxiety, depression levels and quality of life.
A year after they were discharged, researchers used data to check cardiac health and to see who had died.
Results found lonely women were almost three times as likely to have died from any cause after a year, compared to those who did not feel lonely. Lonely men were also twice as likely to die of any cause.
The Copenhagen authors added, “There are indications that the burden of loneliness and social isolation is growing.
“Furthermore, increasing evidence points to their influence on poor health outcomes being equivalent to the risk associated with severe obesity. Public health initiatives should therefore aim at reducing loneliness.”
The scientists were also keen to stress that loneliness – which is subjective – is different to social isolation.