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Cardiac Risk Greater with Some Firefighter Duties Than Others

Risk of heart disease-related death 12 to 136 times higher with fire suppression compared to other duties

WEDNESDAY, March 21 (HealthDay News) -- Certain duties are more dangerous than others for firefighters when considering the risk of death from coronary heart disease, according to a report in the March 22 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine. Heart disease causes 45 percent of deaths among firefighters on active duty.

Stefanos Kales, M.D., of Harvard Medical School in Cambridge, Mass., and colleagues examined the duty-specific risks of death from coronary heart disease among U.S. firefighters between 1994 to 2004, excluding those from the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Using data from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the investigators found that 32.1 percent of coronary heart disease-related active duty deaths were associated with fire suppression. Others occurred in firefighters responding or returning from an alarm (13.4 and 17.4 percent, respectively), and while performing non-emergency duties (15.4 percent).

"Although at least moderate exercise may mitigate the trigger effects of extreme exertion, minimizing the overall risk involves the usual menu of primary and secondary prevention measures," according to Linda Rosenstock, M.D., and Jorn Olsen, M.D., Ph.D., of the University of California Los Angeles, in an accompanying editorial. "These measures include promoting healthy behaviors (such as a heart-healthy diet, no tobacco or excessive alcohol, and regular exercise) and modifying conditions (such as hypertension, diabetes and obesity) that pose additional risks."

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