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82% of firefighters who die of cardiac arrest have CHD, enlarged hearts
Sudden cardiac death (SCD) is the most common cause of mortality among on-duty firefighters, outpacing blunt force trauma, burns and smoke inhalation
The majority of firefighters who die from cardiac arrest while on duty have underlying coronary heart disease (CHD) and an enlarged heart, including left ventricular hypertrophy, according to a study of autopsy data published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
“Firefighters face many dangers, but the greatest risk is from underlying cardiovascular disease in combination with the physiological strain that the workplaces on the firefighter,” lead study author Denise L. Smith, PhD, director of the First Responder Health and Safety Laboratory at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York, said in a press release. “Medical screening is necessary to establish that a firefighter is healthy enough to do this strenuous work.”
Among all cardiac fatalities, 82 percent of the men had both CHD with greater than 75 percent stenosis and cardiomegaly/left ventricular hypertrophy.
It is notable that SCD is the first manifestation of the disease in as much as 50% of all SCDs due to CHD,” the authors wrote. “Given the substantially higher risk of cardiac death associated with CHD and cardiac enlargement, screening measures to detect cardiac enlargement and CHD among firefighters are critical to reduce cardiac deaths in the fire service.”
In addition to more complete cardiac screening of firefighters, Smith and colleagues suggested taking “actionable measures” to lower the risk of cardiac death when CHD or an enlarged heart is detected. The American Heart Association recommends following the Life’s Simple 7 habits: controlling blood pressure and cholesterol, reducing blood sugar, exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight and diet and avoiding smoking.