Stressful law enforcement duties are associated with a risk of sudden cardiac death that is markedly higher than the risk during routine/non-emergency duties, and restraints/altercations and pursuits are associated with the greatest risk, according to a study in The BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal). Evidence indicates that the prevalence of traditional risk factors for cardiovascular disease among the police is high (often higher than the general population), the study authors wrote.
The study assessed data from the deaths of more than 4,500 U.S. police officers provided by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund and the Officer Down Memorial Page from 1984 to 2010.
During the study period, 441 sudden cardiac deaths were observed. Sudden cardiac death was associated with restraints/altercations in 25% of the cases, physical training in 20% of the cases, pursuits of suspects in 12% of the cases, medical/rescue operations in 8% of the cases, routine duties in 23% of the cases and other activities amounted to 11% of the cases. Compared with routine/non-emergency activities which include attending meetings, desk duty, paperwork and issuing parking/traffic tickets the risk of sudden cardiac death was 34-69 times higher during restraints/altercations, 32-51 times higher during pursuits, 20-23 times higher during physical training and 6-9 times higher during medical/rescue operations, according to the study.
The study authors wrote that since law enforcement work involves physical and psychological stressors, this work could act as an occupational trigger in susceptible police officers that can lead an increased risk of sudden cardiac death. To our knowledge, our study is the first to show an association between specific law enforcement duties and risk of sudden cardiac death a finding that supports the hypothesis that stressful work-related activities can trigger sudden cardiac death and is consistent with our previous studies of on duty acute cardiac deaths among firefighters. In addition, our finding that up to 10% of all on-duty deaths during law enforcement are sudden cardiac deaths represents the most accurate estimate to date of the proportionate mortality from sudden cardiac death in this population.
According to the study, while routine/non-emergency duties constituted about 75% of police work time, 77% of sudden cardiac deaths occurred during non-routine tasks. Physical restraints and altercations comprised about 1-2% of a police officers annual professional time but accounted for 25% of on duty sudden cardiac deaths. Similarly, pursuits of suspects also comprised less than 2% of on duty time but were associated with 12% of sudden cardiac deaths and risks 30-50 times higher than during routine/non-emergency duties.
Our findings have public health implications and suggest that primary and secondary cardiovascular prevention efforts are needed among law enforcement officers, the study authors said.
Read the study: http://www.bmj.com/content/349/bmj.g6534