People with heart failure who are socially isolated are more likely to be hospitalized or die prematurely than those who feel connected to others, new research suggests.
The study authors said screening heart failure patients to identify those who lack social support might help to improve outcomes.
Previous studies have shown that social isolation may increase the risk of depression and anxiety. For the latest study, researchers examined the effects of isolation on risk of death and use of medical care.
The investigators asked nearly 1,700 heart failure patients if they were lonely or if they felt socially isolated. The participants, who lived in southeastern Minnesota, had an average age of 73 years. Most were white and slightly more than half were men.
Roughly 6 percent of the patients said that they felt socially isolated, according to the report.
Compared to those who felt socially connected, those who said they were isolated had a 3.7 times greater risk of early death, a 1.7 times greater risk of hospitalization, and a 1.6 times greater risk of visiting the emergency department, the findings showed.
"Our study found a patient's sense of feelings of loneliness or isolation may contribute to poor prognosis in heart failure," said the study's senior author, Lila Rutten. She is a professor of health services research at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
"Health care providers may aid their heart failure patients by implementing a valid, reliable and brief screening tool to help identify those who are experiencing social isolation," she added in an American Heart Association news release.
The researchers cautioned that the findings may not apply to other groups of people because the study lacked racial and geographic diversity. There was also limited patient follow-up, and those who felt less socially isolated could have been likelier to respond.
The study was funded by the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, and by the Patient Centered Outcomes Research Institute.
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Journal of the American Heart Association.