The finding is based on a study of more than 138,000 adults between the ages of 30 and 69 living in the Aarhus area in Denmark. Between 2000 and 2002, 646 people were diagnosed with severe angina, or sustained a heart attack, or sudden cardiac death, a spectrum of conditions known as acute coronary syndrome. When analysed in detail, using information from population registers, poor educational attainment and living on a pension were associated with an increased risk of the syndrome. But the two strongest predictive factors for the syndrome were age and living alone.

Women above the age of 60 and living by themselves, and men over the age of 50, in the same position, were twice as likely to have the syndrome as everyone else. Lone women over 60 comprised just over five per cent, and lone men over 50 just under eight per cent, of the whole population. Yet lone women in this age group accounted for a third of all deaths from the syndrome within 30 days of diagnosis, while lone men in this age group accounted for two thirds of deaths.

The lowest risks included cohabiting with a partner, a high level of education, and being in work. Women divorcees also enjoyed a lower risk of the syndrome. The authors say that certain risk factors tend to be more common in the lifestyles of those who live by themselves, which may help to explain the differences.

These include smoking, obesity, high cholesterol and fewer visits to the family doctor. People living on their own may be less able to draw on social support networks as well, say the authors.; Source: British Medical Journal