January 10, 2022

Heart Disease in Law Enforcement

Dominique Wong MD
Tactical Section Chief Newsletter Editor

Heart disease should be a significant concern for law enforcement and the physicians who work alongside them. LEO are more likely to suffer from a cardiac death at a much younger age than the general public. Typical risk factors may not sufficiently screen the law enforcement population.

Officer Down Memorial Page tabulates line of duty deaths and has included in their definition deaths that occur at home soon after a presumed inciting event.

Data from 2019 (pre-COVID19) line of duty deaths of officers shows:

  • 19 officers with “heart attack” listed as cause of death.
  • The average age of the decedents was 44.8 years of age. (The age range was 30-68 years of age.)
  • 10 of the officers died during a presumed inciting event.
  • 8 of the officers died after the event. Of these, 4 of the officers died after the event at home and 4 died after the event but while still on the job.

In the past decade (pre-COVID19), heart attack was the 4th leading cause (~11%) of LODD behind 9/11 cancer, gunshot wounds, and automobile related deaths (all deaths involving a vehicle together).
(Officer Down Memorial Page)

Physicians supporting law enforcement officers should consider:

  1. Educating law enforcement officers on recognizing symptoms of acute coronary syndrome
  2. Ensuring AEDs are readily available. With the advent of portable affordable devices, these could be placed in vehicles, all training sites, in the department.
  3. Regularly training law enforcement officers on CPR
  4. Risk factor management through education and policy
  5. Promoting research on heart disease in law enforcement
  6. Expanding data collection on heart disease in all law enforcement to include non-LODD and non-fatal heart attacks.

Dr Sheinberg, cardiologist and law enforcement officer, summarizes the relevance and issues surrounding heart disease in law enforcement in a recent article in Police Chief Magazine: https://www.policechiefmagazine.org/five-facets-of-comprehensive-wellness/

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