Apart from the many duty-related risks that police officers face on a day-to-day basis, a recent study comes to show that they also run a much higher risk of sudden cardiac death. Stress related to police work has been shown to have a significant effect on officer’s health and the risk of sudden cardiac death was 30 to 70 times higher than that of controls.
“Although we suspected that strenuous police duties could trigger sudden cardiac deaths in vulnerable officers, we were struck by the magnitudes of the risks and their consistency across different statistical models,”
lead author, Dr. Stefanos Kales said.
It’s true that police work ranks ninth among the most stressful jobs in America in 2014, as CareerCast’s survey showed, also considering that fatality rates among patrol officers were 3 to 5 times higher than the U.S. average for private sector employees. However, these fatalities (15-16 people per 100,000 full time employees) aren’t well documented. Despite this lack of statistical documentation, 7% of all such fatalities are believed to be caused by cardiac disease events.
Dr. Kales and his associates have also investigated the risk of sudden cardiac death among firefighters (firefighting being the third most stressful job in the US). They found that this risk was only elevated during stressful aspects of a firefighter’s duty (as compared to non-emergent duties). Other studies in support of this theory showed that vigorous physical activity could lead to heart attacks or sudden cardiac death, particularly among inactive individuals.
The study included 441 cases of sudden cardiac death among police officers between the years of 1984 and 2010. Dr. Kales used data from the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund as well as the Officer Down Memorial Page to identify whether duty associated with any of the deaths. The result: 431 of the cases were duty associated.
Immediately after, researchers wanted to assess whether there was a connection between sudden cardiac death and the time officers spent fulfilling particular tasks. When compared with routine, non-emergent duties, researchers found that the following duties were connected to a significant increase in the risk of sudden cardiac deaths:
- Altercations/ suspect restraining: 34-69 increased risk
- Pursuits: 31-51 increased risk
- Physical training: 20-23 increased risk
- Rescue operations: 6-9 increased risk
“Our findings have important public health implications for health promotion among law enforcement officers and call for the implementation of primary and secondary cardiovascular disease prevention efforts such as lifestyle and medical interventions to reduce officer’s risk of sudden cardiac death,”
Dr. Kales said also noting that sudden cardiac deaths account for 10% of all on-duty U.S. police deaths.