A Push for Prevention

I don't expect you to read and remember every word published in this magazine, Dear Reader. But I hope the contents benefit you always and educate you sometimes. In that vein, let me repeat an important point made in an article we published this summer (June 2005): "The most common symptom of a heart attack is the denial of symptoms by the patient," veteran emergency care trainer C. J. Palmer wrote. Although he was writing about emergency incidents rather than everyday health issues, the larger truth of his statement is aimed at all of us.

Our society, and especially adult American men, can't be bothered with preventive care. On the whole we are striving and consuming as fast as we can, ignoring danger signs and counting on pills, surgeries, and other repairs to fix whatever fails. Only quick fixes will satisfy us.

Here's an example: The National Fire Protection Association recently analyzed firefighter deaths recorded from 1995 to 2004 and discovered 75 percent of the firefighters who died of heart attacks had gone to work with known or detectable heart conditions.

There were 440 firefighters who died during that period from heart attack or some other type of cardiac sudden death, and those fatalities were typically triggered by stress or exertion. NFPA obtained medical information for 308 of them and found 134 had previously suffered a heart attack or undergone bypass surgery or angioplasty/stent placement. "The majority had known heart disease but were not on restricted duty. An additional 97 had severe blockage of the heart's arteries but it is unclear whether this was known prior to their deaths," the association reported.

Heart attack is a leading killer of firefighters. NFPA says the death toll attributed to heart disease is a prime reason why firefighter deaths haven't declined even as total structure fires have dropped. "The new information points to ways to protect firefighters from the biggest threat to their lives," the association observed. "Just as self-contained breathing apparatus and heat-resistant protective clothing have saved firefighters during interior structural fire protection from many effects of fire, health promotion, screening, appropriate job restrictions, and subsequent treatment can reduce the incidence of sudden cardiac death."

Think preventively, in other words. We know this is right; now, will we take our own advice?

This column appeared in the August 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

This article originally appeared in the August 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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