Officer Wellness and Heart Disease
Dr. Jon Sheinberg discusses the impact of heart disease on the life expectancy of law enforcement officers in this video. He also makes recommendations to prevent a heart attack. The transcript of the video follows afterwards.
My name is Dr. Jon Sheinberg. I’m a police officer and I am a physician, and I’m here to help save your life. Most of you do not realize that your risk of dying from a heart attack is much higher than you may believe. But it does not need to be. We have the ability now to detect heart disease in its very early stages, treat it and prevent you from suffering a heart attack. This is a major problem. Coronary disease is the number one killer of police officers. Most heart attacks are not even counted, because they occur outside of duty hours. If an officer has a bad shift, if they’re involved in a use of force, if they have to perform CPR, if they’re in a pursuit, the adrenaline surge that occurs does not dissipate the minute the shift ends. It persists for hours. Heart attacks frequently occur many hours after that initial adrenaline dump.
So when we look at a 24-hour window, death from heart attack is the number one killer year after a year, without exception. And these numbers do not even take into account the heart attacks that don’t end up causing death. This results in a major problem. As police officers, our life expectancy is 22 years less than the general population. If you’re a civilian, chances are you’ll live to 79. But if you’re a cop, our life expectancy is 57. And this presents a significant problem for us because the average age of retirement of a police officer is also 57. We are dying early.
If you look at heart attacks, the average age of a civilian who has a heart attack is 65. But the average age of a cop that suffers the same heart attack is 49. If you’re lucky and do live between to the ages of 55 and 59, if you’re a civilian, your chance of having a heart attack causing death is only 1.9%. But during that same window, if you’re a cop, your chance of dying is 56%. We have disproportionate rates of other diseases as well. 33% of police officers have diabetes and most don’t even realize it. 25% of police officers have high blood pressure and there’s a significant prevalence of obesity. Nationwide 40% of us are clinically obese. But where I’m from, in Central Texas, 80% of cops are clinically obese. We have a problem. We are sick. We have high rates of diabetes, high rates of blood pressure issues, high rates of obesity, and when we look and test for it, 60% of cops who are tested have coronary disease, which can be detected before they suffer a heart attack, even as early as age 30.
It’s very possible, easy and inexpensive to detect blockages when they are beginning to form. I’m not talking about treadmill tests. These tests do not detect blockages until it’s too late. More advanced testing is available and it’s absolutely needed. Every one of you needs to ask your doctor to obtain two very simple tests. The first test is called a coronary calcium score. It is a very quick scan of the chest done on a low-dose radiation CT scanner. You simply lie down on the scanner you’ll in and out within about 30 seconds. That test looks for little flecks of calcium within the arteries of the heart which indicate blockages are beginning to form. When that test is paired with a simple blood test, which is called Phospholipase A2 or abbreviated as PLA-2, we’re able to detect the early stages of inflammation when blockages form. When blockages form, inflammation occurs, and that’s what leads to heart attack.
So if we take a group of cops and they undergo these two tests, we can find heart disease early. So the increased risk of death are decreased risk of life expectancy, and the inability for many of us to have the retirement that we’ve worked so hard, for is not a mystery. With elevated rates of high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, coronary disease, mixed with a unique stress pattern, which consists of continued levels of calm, routine work, mundane calls, punctuated by periods of sudden rapid adrenaline dumps. Fighter pilots have a saying for a similar situation. It’s 98% boredom and 2% terror.
It’s not enough just to detect blockages. Once the blockages are detected, we have the ability to not only stop those blockages from progressing but to cause those blockages to regress, to go away. But we have to catch them and treat them early. We do so in a three pronged approach. We use the right medicine. Very simply, cholesterol medicines are the only tool we have in our toolbox that has been proven to cause blockages to regress. The second prong is lifestyle changes. It is vital that we eat and exercise appropriately. A diet which is low in carbohydrates and free of sugar is now proven to be the most beneficial diet. Because now we know eating sugars is what cause heart disease, not eating fat. Exercise is vital. It is important to do 30 minutes of aerobic exercise at least four times a week.
The third prong of our approach is replacement of missing nutrients. We look for missing vitamin D levels, fish oil levels and folic acid levels. If we do each one of these three prongs, we can reduce heart disease. But not only by doing so do we save lives, but we can save money as well. An in-service heart attack will cost the taxpayers between $400,000 and $750,000. While screening costs a small fraction of that amount.
My goal is to eliminate heart disease in law enforcement. Allowing us to finally hit the below 100 target that we have strived for. If we eliminate heart disease, we are able to do so. But it requires early screening by obtaining a calcium score and that blood test called Phospholipase A2. It requires early implementation of strategies to treat, which includes the right medicine, the right lifestyle changes, and the right nutrient replacements. If we catch this early it is fixable. This problem can be solved. Your heart matters, your life matters. It’s up to you.