06/19/2012 04:33 pm ET

Death Risk Higher For Heart Patients Who Live Alone, Study Suggests

For people with heart disease, the risk of dying is higher if they live alone, a new study suggests.

Researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School found that people who have arterial vascular disease (which includes peripheral vascular disease and coronary disease) and live alone have a higher risk of dying over a four-year period than people who live with others.

The study is published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.

Researchers said past evidence suggests living alone may affect stress, health behaviors and health-care access.

"Living alone may be a marker of a stressful situation, such as social isolation due to work or personal reasons, which can influence biological effects on the cardiovascular system," Dr. Jacob Udell, MD, of the Brigham and Women's Department of Medicine, said in a statement. "Also, patients who live alone may delay seeking medical attention for concerning symptoms, which can increase their risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke."

The study was based on 44,573 people who were part of the REduction of Atherothrombosis for Continued Health (REACH) Registry. REACH is sponsored by the pharmaceutical companies sanofi-aventis and Bristol-Myers Squibb.

Specifically, researchers found that people who lived alone had a 14.1 percent risk of dying over four years, while people who didn't live alone had a 11.1 percent risk of dying. And 8.6 percent of people who live alone had a risk of dying from heart-related reasons, compared with 6.8 percent of people who live with others.

Going by age, researchers found that the risk of death for 45- to 65-year-olds who live alone with heart disease is 7.7 percent, compared with 5.7 percent for those who don't live alone. For 66- to 80-year-olds, the risk is 13.2 percent for those who live alone compared with 12.3 percent for those who don't.

Interestingly, the risk of dying was actually lower for people ages 80 and older with heart disease who lived alone -- 24.7 percent, versus 28.4 percent for those who didn't live alone.