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Extreme heat exposure increases heart attack risk in firefighters

If you're a firefighter, you most like put your life on the line on the line very frequently in an effort to save others. It's common knowledge that your occupation is one of the most stressful and challenging. Although the fires pose risks of burn injuries and death, there are additional threats to which you may be highly susceptible.

Reports of fires often include notes that say none of the firefighters suffered injuries, but as a firefighter, you will know that even though you suffered no burn injuries, every fire you fight can cause further damage to your body. Along with the psychological impact of facing life-and-death situations almost daily, researchers say firefighters are at a high risk of suffering heart attacks.

The study

As part of an international study, 19 firefighters in good health participated in fire simulation exercises in which they had to rescue victims of average weight from a double-story building. They faced temperatures as high as 400 degrees Celsius. The firefighters wore heart monitors during the simulations.

This served to assist researchers with the assessment of the health of each participant's heart and the level of strain put on their cardiovascular functions. Furthermore, their blood pressures and heart rates were recorded before and after the exercise. The same firefighters took part in a similar exercise one week later, and the results of both simulations were the same.

The findings

You may be interested in learning that analysis of the test results suggested that exposure to excessive heat cause firefighters to face an increased risk of heart attack. The researchers determined that the extreme heat in which you sometimes work, along with the physical exertion, can impair your blood vessels and promote blood clotting. This can lead to a sudden heart attack, which is reportedly the leading cause of death among firefighters.

The researchers found an average increase of the core body temperature of participants over the 20-minute exercise was almost two degrees Fahrenheit. Furthermore, their blood became more concentrated due to water loss and increased hemoglobin. These two stressors of heat and exertion can have a high potential of causing the physiological reaction of blood clotting.

The conclusion

The researchers concluded that you and your fellow firefighters are more susceptible to sudden heart attacks than workers of similar age and health in other occupations. Along with the threat of clotting blood, the harsh conditions can also injure the muscles of your heart. They say there is an existing link between suppressing fires and heart attacks, and this study may explain the reason.

This study and its findings may encourage you to remain aware of the risk of a sudden heart attack. One way for you to take precaution is to have regular medical checkups at which to your physician can monitor the condition of your heart. There are tests that can indicate warning signs of imminent heart attacks that may allow timely treatment. You can also take some comfort in knowing that the Illinois workers' compensation insurance program will likely cover medical bills related to any on-the-job injuries and medical problems.

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