More evidence that feeling lonely is bad for heart health

  • Mind
  • Thursday, 07 Jun 2018

The study reported that patients with a high level of social isolation had a 68% increased risk of hospitalisation and a 57% increased risk of emergency department visits.

New US research has found that heart failure patients who feel lonely are more likely to require hospitalisation than patients who feel less socially isolated.

Researchers from the Mayo Clinic, John Hopkins University, and Olmsted County Public Health Services in the US surveyed 2,003 patients who had been diagnosed with heart failure, a condition which occurs when the heart is too weak to effectively pump blood throughout the body.

The survey asked participants to respond to four statements - "I feel left out," "I feel that people barely know me," "I feel isolated from others," and "I feel that people are around me but not with me" - and indicate how often they felt this way.

Scores could range from 4 to 20, with a higher score indicating greater perceived social isolation.

The results showed that only around 6% of participants reported high perceived social isolation and 19% had moderate perceived social isolation.

However, it was the patients with high perceived social isolation who had the greatest risk of death, 3.5 times higher than those who had low perceived social isolation.

Patients with a high level of social isolation also had a 68% increased risk of hospitalisation and a 57% increased risk of emergency department visits.

Those reporting moderate perceived social isolation on the other hand did not have an increased risk of death, hospitalisations, or emergency department visits compared with patients reporting low perceived social isolation.

The study's senior author Lila Rutten commented that the study is one of the first to research thoroughly the link between heart failure patients, prognosis and perceptions of social isolation.

However, it is not the first to show a link between loneliness and a higher risk of negative health outcomes.

A large-scale study published earlier this year by the University of Helsinki in Finland found that contrary to popular belief, loneliness does not contribute to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease; however the risk of death after a heart attack or stroke is around 30% higher for those feeling lonely.

Research from the University of Toronto also found that for older adults and seniors, having more or closer relationships with family members can decrease the risk of mortality, although surprisingly having close friendships or a larger group of friends did not have the same effect.

A 2017 meta-analysis by Brigham University looked at 70 studies involving around 3.4 million participants to find that social isolation could be just as important as a risk factor for mortality as obesity, while a 2015 study suggested that loneliness has a negative effect on health due to social isolation causing a weakened immune system, which makes a person who lives alone more vulnerable to illness.

The results of the new research were published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. – AFP Relaxnews

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