In the new study, 50 firefighters from Baltimore and Howard counties in Maryland were assessed in the traditional ways, but also with a CT scan to search for coronary artery calcium (calcified plaque) and an ultrasound test to search for carotid plaque and measure the thickness of the carotid artery (cIMT).
Although all the firefighters were without cardiovascular symptoms, the researchers found that two-thirds of the participants (33 of 50) had carotid plaque and/or thickening of the carotid artery greater than levels in the 75th percentile of values known to reflect risk. Coronary artery calcium was found in 11 subjects (22 percent) using the CT scan, while carotid artery plaque was found using cIMT in 18 of them (36 percent). There were some firefighters who had both coronary and carotid plaque.
The use of an aspirin and statin were recommended for all firefighters with plaque.
Strikingly, Ratchford says, the researchers also found that 50 percent of the firefighters in the study had prediabetes, and 2 percent had diabetes. Only 14 percent had a normal body mass index, with 38 percent overweight and 48 percent obese.
The researchers say they aren't sure why firefighters are at increased risk of cardiovascular disease, though the high risk and stress of the job combined with poor lifestyle habits could play a role.
As a second part of the study, the firefighters received lifestyle interventions to prevent or mitigate the cardiovascular problems identified by the Johns Hopkins team. The results have not yet been published.
"We are here to help them understand that prevention of cardiovascular disease is important and that the earlier we identify risk factors for cardiovascular disease or plaque in their arteries, the sooner we can work to reduce the risk of a major cardiovascular event, such as heart attack," Ashen says.
|Contact: Stephanie Desmon|
Johns Hopkins Medicine