Forget the latest heart medications and procedures and figure out how to provide more social support to cardiac patients, new research suggests.
A cross-sectional Danish study of 13,433 patients recently hospitalised with cardiac disease at one of five heart centres has found patient-reported loneliness predicted all-cause mortality at one year.
Men and women with diagnoses of ischaemic heart disease, arrhythmia, heart failure or valve disease were surveyed and their outcomes tracked via the Danish National Patient Register during the first year after discharge.
The study found women feeling lonely had almost triple the risk of all-cause mortality compared to other women with heart disease (HR 2.92).
Men living alone had an increased risk of cardiac events (HR 1.39) and men feeling lonely had more than twice the risk of all-cause mortality (HR 2.4).
Overall patients who felt lonely also reported poorer physical and mental health, poorer quality of life, and more anxiety and depression.
Interestingly, there was no statistically significant interaction between living alone and loneliness.
The findings, published online in the journal Heart, are largely consistent with a body of evidence that links loneliness with disease and death.
The research suggests that loneliness is associated with “changes in cardiovascular, neuroendocrine and immune function as well as unhealthy lifestyle choices which can impact negative health outcomes”.
Loneliness should therefore be regarded as a legitimate health risk and included in clinical risk assessment of cardiac patients, the researchers said.
“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.”