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Autopsies of soldiers killed in combat show almost 9% had clogged heart arteries

4:59 pm by | 20 Comments

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Just over one in 12 U.S. service members who died in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars had plaque buildup in the arteries around their hearts - an early sign of heart disease, according to a new study.

None of them had been diagnosed with heart disease before deployment, researchers said.

"This is a young, healthy, fit group," said the study's lead author, Dr. Bryant Webber, from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland.

"These are people who are asymptomatic, they feel fine, they're deployed into combat," he told Reuters Health.

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"It just proves again the point that we know that this is a clinically silent disease, meaning people can go years without being diagnosed, having no signs or symptoms of the disease."

Webber said the findings also show that although the U.S. has made progress in lowering the nationwide prevalence of heart disease, there's more work that can be done to encourage people to adopt a healthy lifestyle and reduce their risks.

Heart disease accounts for about one in four deaths - or about 600,000 Americans each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The new data come from autopsies done on U.S. service members who died in October 2001 through August 2011 during combat or from unintentional injuries. Those autopsies were originally performed to provide a full account to service members' families of how they died.

The study mirrors autopsy research on Korean and Vietnam war veterans, which found signs of heart disease in as many as three-quarters of deceased service members at the time.

"Earlier autopsy studies... were critical pieces of information that alerted the medical community to the lurking burden of coronary disease in our young people," said Dr. Daniel Levy, director of the Framingham Heart Study and a senior investigator with the National Institutes of Health.

The findings are not directly comparable, in part because there was a draft in place during the earlier wars but not for Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom/New Dawn. When service is optional, healthier people might be more likely to sign up, researchers explained.

Still, Levy said the new study likely reflects declines in heart disease in the U.S. in general over that span.

Altogether the researchers had information on 3,832 service members who'd been killed at an average age of 26. Close to 9 percent had any buildup in their coronary arteries, according to the autopsies. And about a quarter of the soldiers with buildup in their arteries had severe blockage.

Service members who had been obese or had high cholesterol or high blood pressure when they entered the military were especially likely to have plaque buildup, Webber and his colleagues reported Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

More than 98 percent of the service members included were men.

"This study bodes well for a lower burden of disease lurking in young people," Levy, who wrote an editorial published with the report, told Reuters Health.

"Young, healthy people are likely to have a lower burden of disease today than their parents or grandparents had decades ago."

That's likely due, in part, to better control of blood pressure and cholesterol and lower rates of smoking in today's service members - as well as the country in general, researchers said.

However, two risks for heart disease that haven't declined are obesity and diabetes, which are closely linked.

"Obesity is the one that has not trended in the right direction," Levy said.

"Those changes in obesity and diabetes threaten to reverse some of the dramatic improvements that we are seeing in heart disease death rates," he added.

SOURCE: http://bit.ly/JjFzqx Journal of the American Medical Association, online December 25, 2012.

Copyright 2014 MedCity News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

By Genevra Pittman,

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20 comments
Holdon McG
Holdon McG

This was found during/after the Korean war too.  Those studies are the basis for "demon cholesterol".  Too bad this pathetic blogger didn't do the requisite homework.  Sometimes it pays to get out of the basement.

crusadermonkeyjd
crusadermonkeyjd

so by extrapolation 9% of US men in their 20s have clogged arteries?  Fast food couldn't be the cause of that could it? fruit eaters seldom have clogged arteries or alcoholics either the alcohol clears out the plaque.

Holli
Holli

I'm sure the arteries were blocking before combat tours. However, the study didn't say which MOS (job) these soldiers were in. Some units get "propay" as in, they do not get meal cards to eat at the DFAC bc of their schedules. They may not always make it to eat before it closes. Jobs like these include MP's, Fire fighters, certain Medic jobs, etc. Most of your infantry, field artillery, "maintenance sections" get meal cards. The DFAC isn't always healthy. The deployment food is worse. Everything was fried, fried waffles, pancakes, greased out tacos and spaghetti, etc. On top of that - the portions are outrageous. If you had a fridge in your room, area, you could possibly save it but if not, you were throwing out enough food for 3 more meals. Maybe if the military could look at what they serve, it would help. Don't offer cheeseburgers everyday. lol

john a
john a

So what you're telling us is war is unhealthy for us. Gosh Almighty, I would have never guessed. Thank You for that

information.

Now lets tell all the governments in the world,so they will know too!!!

hound283
hound283

And what part does stress of combat play in this study ?

silvermaran
silvermaran

Pity they refuse to do spirochetal focused autopsies that can take up to 5 mths. to culture the gene sharing stealth infections of the real seronegative AIDS they gave everyone vaccines. Then we could begin to treat the masses instead of continue to infect them with more junk DNA and stop the Autism pandemic. Because they are getting the prion protein infections from their parents who may not even know they are sick until they too get their syndromes.  Luc Montagnier Autism expert and AIDS has said its going to cost us...but the consequences of NOT treating to stop the pandemic is unthinkable at a projected rate of 1 in 9 infected babies being born by 2022.  But they keep giving them Smallpox antigens and Anthrax DNA to share in the viral/fungal prion synergy from spirochetal HeLa infected cell lines used in vaccines and you won't have to worry treating.

Army vet
Army vet

Keep in mind folks that many soldiers also consume large amounts of alcohol when they are off duty and either smoke or chew tobaco. This could also be a contributing factor with the heart desease issue of the fallen service members and all those currently CONUS or on deployment.

RonWagner
RonWagner

More agressive prescribing of statins in high risk populations should be promoted. 

Polo911
Polo911

Simple Fix. Start feeding our Military Servicemen Michelle Obamas School lunch menu. Not only will they lose weight, I am sure they will be stronger and healthier ( according to MO). Plus, it will save us taxpayers money by serving them the meals the kids won't eat.

pcwag33
pcwag33

Field rations are not fit for human consumption.

SeniorMoment
SeniorMoment

This result makes clear that the military mess system doesn't serve healthy meals and the military health care system is not diligent in treating lipid disorders.  Of course it doesn't help either that the military recruits so many young men from the South where meals are often high in fat, such as from deep frying.  Perhpas it also means that the military needs to kick off base all fast food businesses that decline to sell healthier food on bases.

Staden
Staden

When part of the headline was cut off in the link that led me here, I was expecting it to read "almost 9% had clogged pores", and start advocating a stronger wartime exfoliant

fred
fred

Actually if you read the article there is an immense improvement from the viet nam and korean era - "three-quarters" versus 9 percent - and you can be that the average age of those who died in VN was less than it is today. 9 percent versus 75 percent, that should have been the REAL headline (assuming the earlier studies used the same benchmarks as this one).

Just a Soldier
Just a Soldier

""It just proves again the point that we know that this is a clinically silent disease, meaning people can go years without being diagnosed, having no signs or symptoms of the disease."

 

No, it means providing soldiers with fried chicken, hot wings, hamburgers, pizza, ribs, and all the other greasy/unhealthy food they serve in the chow halls over here four meals a day is killing our soldiers.

Patrick
Patrick

Thats what happens when your supply lines stretch the globe. It is impossible to provide fresh good food to troops on a consistent basis. Especially with all the current demands on air transportation. There are limited vegetable and fruit shipments by air but a majority of the food is boated into port and trucked in over land. This means food that is heavy in preservatives and easy to prepare; ie fried. This isn't including the 3000 calorie MRE. The troops are relatively healthy, its the environment they are in that isn't healthy for them. 

JCottle
JCottle

@hound283 None. Atherosclerosis has an insidious onset, requiring years to manifest to the extent that the condition represents a risk of heart attack. In other words, you can't develop atherosclerosis within the time-frame associated to combat tour of duty and the level of stress that exposure may produce. 

Veronica Combs
Veronica Combs moderator

That would be much better news if it were simply a cosmetic problem!

SeniorMoment
SeniorMoment

Because soldiers who died in Korea and Vietnam were primarily drafted involuntarily into the war any statements about their autopsy results would reflect the general population and what was served at home and in school lunch programs of their era.  My father served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, but died of a heart attack from sloppy VA medical care.  His initial cardiology clinic appointment was a few weeks after his death, but an autopsy showed that he had many previous heart attacks that went untreated, based on heart scarring.

SeniorMoment
SeniorMoment

Take a look at where the produce comes from at your own grocery store.  Except for what is grown locally in greenhouses such as hothouse tomatoes most of the produce is shipped thousands of miles by air from where it is an in season crop. All the soft fruit for example at a local grocery store now comes from Chili this time of year during their summer.  Oranges and hard fruits though often come from the last  U. S. harvest stored just above freezing in cold storage which is easily provided on ships.  Refrigerated trucks are also readily available.

 

The only location specific factor that  might play a role is that combat theaters are stressful places to live and stress does faciliate heart disease.

 

What is wrong through is the military contracts for food services, so the soldiers have little say in what tfood they are served, and even s howers are installed by contractors without military inspection which is why so many soldiers have been electrocuted from showers that were not properly grounded.

 

I have eated in a military mess as a guest on base (many years ago), and I found nothing redeeming about the food.  Vegatables were boiled not steamed, the brownie was not much softer than hard tack and the meal was basically aweful.  It doesn't have to be that way.  The British has a volunteer army too, but they use food service as a recruitment incentive with their military mess being rated independent of the defense industry as a 5 star restaurant. Instead our Defense Department drives soldiers to use on base fast food to get any flavor out of a meal.  Contractors are paid per meal regardless of how bad the meal is, so it is in their financial interest to serve the worst possible meals that meet minimum military standards.

Leadfoot
Leadfoot

 @SeniorMoment Having joined the army in 1971,  and having a wife that is on

active duty,  I have found that for the most part that meals served in mess halls and

in other military kitchens are very good and at times even excellent.  Many military

members, my self included,  tend to pass on the salads, fruits and 'healthy' items and

pick the comfort food items that are most appealing.  It is the individuals choices that

many members make,  not the type or quality of food provided that should come under

examination. 

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