Loneliness increases the risk of a heart attack or stroke by almost a third, according to research.
The effect of social isolation is similar to that of anxiety or work-related stress.
Campaigners recently called for urgent action to tackle the 'silent epidemic' of loneliness among the elderly. More than half of over-75s live alone – and about 1 million Britons are thought to suffer loneliness.
'Loneliness is becoming a silent epidemic in our society. It's the responsibility of our community as a whole to tackle it.'