New research links enlarged heart to sudden cardiac events among firefighters

Cardiac Enlargement in U.S. Firefighters

It’s widely acknowledged in the fire service that cardiac events account for roughly 45 percent of all firefighter line-of-duty deaths. Autopsy reports showed many of these incidents occurred in people who had underlying heart problems, and most of the research has focused on firefighters with existing coronary heart disease. But this doesn’t tell the bigger story.

A new white paper released by the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation (NFFF), Cardiac Enlargement in U.S. Firefighters, shows research has found a direct relationship between an enlarged heart and an increased risk for cardio vascular events, including sudden death, among firefighters. Furthermore, studies indicate an enlarged heart may be the only abnormality, which often is undiagnosed. The white paper was prepared by: Maria Korre, Sc.D. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health; Denise Smith, Ph.D. Skidmore College and Illinois Fire Service Institute; Steven Moffatt, M.D. Public Safety Medical; and Stefanos Kales, M.D., M.P.H. Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Understanding this relationship can help the fire service expand research to help determine how common heart enlargement is among working firefighters, the best methods of measuring its presence, and which firefighters are at highest risk and therefore, should be screened. This is especially good news since many effective treatments for an enlarged heart are available, including weight loss through diet and exercise.

Download the Cardiac Enlargement in U.S. Firefighters Report