Firefighters face bigger health threat than flames

Firefighters face bigger health threat than flames

The dangers involved in being a firefighter may seem obvious, but the less obvious threats might be the most dangerous.

Heart attacks are the perennial leader when it comes to the nature of a fatal injury on the job, accounting for 48 percent of deaths in 2012 and 34 percent in 2013, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

“Your blood pressure is up, the adrenalin is flowing,” says Dr. James McCriskin, cardiologist with Advocate Heart Institute at BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, Ill. “It’s a perfect mix to cause a plaque rupture in a heart artery, which can lead to a heart attack.”

That accounts for one explanation for the increased risk of cardiovascular disease in firefighters, and researchers have recently been looking into another connection – heat stress.

In the June edition of Vascular Medicine, the findings of two studies regarding heat stress will be published. The studies examined the impact of heat stress on the heart and blood vessels, particularly how the protective gear worn by firefighters affects the heart and how aspirin can help the blood vessels of firefighters in those situations.

“These two studies demonstrate that heat stress may be a key factor in contributing to cardiovascular risk in firefighters through its adverse effects on blood vessel function,” said Dr. Naomi M Hamburg, associate editor of Vascular Medicine, in a news release.

Further research is needed to determine the optimal use of aspirin as a proactive measure for firefighters to ward off the effects of exerting themselves in such heavy, insulated gear. In the meantime, physicians like McCriskin encourage firefighters to have regular cardiac screenings.

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About the Author

Lynn Hutley
Lynn Hutley

Lynn Hutley, health enews contributor, is coordinator of public affairs and marketing at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center and Advocate Eureka Hospital in central Illinois. Having grown up in a family-owned drug store, it is no surprise that Lynn has spent almost 18 years working in the health care industry. She has a degree in human resources management from Illinois State University and is always ready to tackle Trivia Night.