When a person with coronary heart disease does not get enough blood to the heart, he may experience angina , heart attack , or sudden cardiac death—all of which fall under an umbrella term known as acute coronary syndrome (ACS). Physicians identify individuals at higher risk of ACS if they have certain risk factors such as smoking, high blood pressure , or diabetes . Certain social indictors, including a low income and education level also increase the risk of ACS.

In a study published in the August 2006 issue of Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health , researchers identified other social factors that increase the risk of ACS. They found that men older than 50 years and women older than 60 years who lived alone had a significantly increased risk of ACS, compared to men and women who lived with at least one companion.

About the Study

The researchers identified a group of 138,290 men and women, ages 30-69 years, who lived in a particular town in Denmark. They followed these individuals for two years, noting how many incidents of ACS occurred during that time period. The researchers analyzed the relationship between risk of ACS and a number of social and demographic factors, which were available for all of the study subjects through official registries maintained in Denmark. These factors included the participants’ age, gender, marital status, education level, income, occupation, and the number of adults and children living in the participants’ household.

During the two-year study period, 646 individuals were diagnosed with acute coronary syndrome. Women older than 60 years who lived alone made up 5.4% of the female study population, yet they comprised 34.3% of the cases of ACS in women. Men over the age of 50 who lived alone made up 7.7% of the male study population, yet comprised 62.4% of the ACS cases in men.

This study did not consider the participants’ medical histories or other risk factors that could have affected their risk of ACS. In addition, the researchers did not separate out how much age and living alone individually contributed to the increased risk of ACS.

How Does This Affect You?

This study found that older men and women who lived alone had a significantly increased risk of acute coronary syndrome, compared to other men and women in the study population. While the researchers were unable to determine why this was the case, previous studies have shown that men and women who live alone are more likely to smoke, be obese, have high cholesterol levels, and visit a physician less frequently than people who do not live alone. Individuals who live by themselves are also less likely to have a social support network. All of these factors have been associated with poorer health, including heart disease and its complications.

Some older adults choose to live independently while others find themselves alone following the death of a spouse or other companion. Whether you live alone by choice or circumstance, you do not have to let it affect your well-being. In addition to consuming a healthful diet and staying active, make an effort to seek the company of other adults in your community through an enjoyable activity, a volunteer opportunity, or a religious group. It may not seem like much, but you are likely to be happier, and healthier, for it.