Feeling Lonely? You May Be At Risk of Dying Early

By Amir Khan on June 19, 2012 10:26 AM EDT

Alone
Living by yourself or simply feeling lonely sometimes could raise your risk of premature death, according to two new studies (Photo: Reuters)

Living by yourself or simply feeling lonely sometimes could raise your risk of premature death, according to two new studies, published in the in the Archives of Internal Medicine on Monday. The reason for the increased risk is unclear, but researchers said it could have to do with access to medicine.

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"Patients living alone may have more difficulty getting their medications refilled and taking them regularly," Deepak Bhatt, study coauthor and researcher with Harvard Medical School, told Fox News. They also don't have anyone at home to call the doctor's office or emergency room if they are not looking well."

Researchers followed over 45,000 people who either had heart disease or were at risk for it. Over a four year period, those who lived alone were almost 25 percent more likely to die than people who lived with others. In comparison, type 2 diabetes increases your risk for dying by approximately 40 percent, Bhatt told WebMD.

"If we can actually target this, I think we have the potential to make a lot of difference," Carla M. Perissinotto, author of the second study and assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, told WebMD." By actually engaging with your patients and talking about this, it makes a better alliance."

In the second study, researchers polled more than 1,600 seniors over the six year period between 2002 and 2008 and asked them questions about how lonely they felt, including if they felt left out, isolated, or if they lacked companionship.

The people who described themselves as feeling lonely were 45 percent more likely to die over the course of the study, researcher said. Loneliness was also tied to trouble with basic, everyday activities such as climbing the stairs, eating and bathing.

"Finding the association was a little bit sad," Perissinotto told WebMD. "I have a patient who's been losing weight. She has resources, but she doesn't enjoy eating anymore because it's not a social experience. She's lonely and she says it straight out: 'I'm lonely.'"

Experts were not surprised at the findings, saying loneliness is linked to trouble sleeping, high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

"No matter if you're a man or woman or what country you're from, it's important to be surrounded by people who emotionally support you," Suzanne Steinbaum, a cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, told WebMD. "We are social beings. We really do need to have a team of people. We thrive with having friends and family and being loved." 

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