Soldier's Heart Clogged

Atherosclerosis among soldiers has dropped but those with the disease often go undiagnosed

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Heart health has been improving among Americans—including US soldiers. Service members who do have clogged arteries, however, appear to show no signs or symptoms.

A new study based on autopsies of US service members who recently died of combat or unintentional injuries has found that 1 in 12 soldiers has clogged arteries.

This is a major drop from previous wars. None of the soldiers, however, had been diagnosed with the disease.

"Eat healthy, exercise and don’t smoke."

Bryant Webber, MD, preventive medicine resident from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland, led research studying hardening of the arteries among 3,832 service members who had died between 2001 and 2011.

The soldiers had served in Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom/New Dawn. Ages ranged from 18 to 59 with the average age of 26. About 98 percent were male.

About 1 in 12 showed some clogging in any of the four major heart arteries. About 2 percent had severe atherosclerosis, which is defined as a 50 percent or greater narrowing of at least one of those arteries.

Those who were age 40 and over had seven times the rate of disease as those under 25.

Investigators noted that those diagnosed with high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and obesity were more likely to have plaque buildup. None of the soldiers, however, showed any of the signs or symptoms of this heart disease.

Dr. Webber told daily Rx News, “These soldiers are physically fit. Our results reaffirm that this disease is often clinically ‘silent.’ It can go unnoticed and undiagnosed for years. The key is preventing it. All healthcare systems need to be pushing for cardiovascular disease prevention.”

Prevention includes healthy eating, maintaining an active lifestyle, stopping smoking and weight management, according to Dr. Webber.

While it continues to be a serious health problem, cases of atherosclerosis among soldiers appear to be declining, according to the study.

From available previous research, Dr. Webber and his team estimated that 77 percent of service members from the Korean War had clogging of the arteries and 45 percent of Vietnam War soldiers had the disease. In the Korean War, 15 percent were severe cases, and 5 percent were severe in the Vietnam War.

Although Dr. Webber did not have the data, he thought that improvement of heart disease among soldiers could be attributed to healthier lifestyles.

“For example, smoking rates have dropped 40% since 1980 and it’s likely they declined even more since the Korean and Vietnam War eras,” Dr. Webber said. “We can say with some confidence that trends are going in the right direction.”

Between 1999 and 2009, the rate of deaths from cardiovascular disease fell by one third, but the disease still contributed to nearly one in three deaths in the nation, according to the American Heart Association.

The study was published in the December 26 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 29, 2012
Last Updated:
January 2, 2013