People with heart disease who live alone tend to die sooner than those sharing their home with others, according to an international study that looked at more than 44,000 people.
Previous studies have linked social isolation to everything from heart attacks to weakened immune systems, but the current study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, focused specifically on people with known heart disease or at very high risk for it.
Reasons for the difference remain unclear, but lead researcher Deepak Bhatt said access to regular medical care might be involved.
"Patients living alone may have more difficulty getting their medications refilled and taking them regularly," Bhatt, at Harvard Medical School in Boston, told Reuters Health.
"They also don't have anyone at home to call the doctor's office or emergency room if they are not looking well."
The study included more than 44,000 people, all aged 45 or older, from multiple countries across the globe.
Over the four years the study lasted, 7.7 percent of participants younger than 65 who lived on their own died, compared to just 5.7 percent of those who didn't live alone.
The gap was smaller for people aged 66 to 80, but it remained statistically reliable even after accounting for age, sex, employment, ethnicity and country. The living situation of those over 80, however, wasn't tied to death rates.
Bhatt and his team speculated that in people under 80, living alone could signal psychological and social problems like job strain or loneliness. In contrast, very old people who live on their own may be healthier and more independent than those who don't.
Whatever the explanation, Bhatt said cardiologists should routinely ask their patients if they live alone.
"If the answer is yes, that might be a red flag and they should make sure the patients have a way to get their medicine regularly," he said.
Meanwhile, patients who live alone should think twice before ignoring changes that might be a sign of health problems.
"May times people just adapt to their circumstances. Perhaps just lower your threshold a little bit and realize it's better to call (the doctor) than not to call."
But that might not be the whole story, he acknowledged.
"Other mechanisms by which living alone could increase cardiac risk have to do with possible social isolation and loneliness, and these are more challenging to fix," he said.
Indeed, another report published along with Bhatt's shows that older people who felt lonely had more difficulty performing basic tasks of daily living and died younger than those who didn't feel alone. SOURCE: http://bit.ly/KgcRnj
Paris being hit by the longest and most intense winter pollution peak in 10 years, according French air quality watchdog
A third of the world's polar bears will disappear in next 40 years
About 20 percent of Canadians have little or no coverage
Students in a private Australian high school have recreated a malaria drug in the school laboratory
2 studies claim psilocybin, outlawed by federal government, could significantly improve patients’ mood
Global crises changing nature of hotel industry, expert warns Mediterranean Week of Economic Leaders conference
Fighting climate change means different things in different cities, as this snapshot illustrates:
The Paris deal, now in force, calls for capping global warming at two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels, and at 1.5 C (2.7 F) if possible.
British MPs voted in February to allow the creation of in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) babies with DNA from three people.
The H5N6 virus was first confirmed on November 18 at a farm in central South Korea and it has since spread to farms around the country, with the total number of cases now standing at 46.
It is one of the biggest clinical trials involving the disease ever undertaken and has revived hopes in the scientific community of a breakthrough in the battle against AIDS.
Nuclear energy: who's advancing and who's retreating
A killer bird flu that is sweeping Europe has forced Sweden to cull more than 200,000 chickens
Study finds blood of old mice makes young mice feeble; scientists hope to discover more in human trials soon
Drug overdoses are now killing more Americans than car crashes, putting the sheer scale of the crisis into perspective.
The idea of clean air, potable water and healthy food free from heavy metals, pesticides, and other pollutants as a human right emerged in the mid-1970s.