A survey found that firefighters may be at higher risk for atrial fibrillation (AF) as the number of fires they fight per year increases. These findings were published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Firefighters who had affiliations with 5 national or international professional organizations were contacted by email and a link to participate in the study was put on the organization’s website. Active firefighters (n=10,860) were asked to complete a survey which assessed demographics, occupational history, cardiovascular and health history, and annual of exposure to fires. Non-firefighter participants or retired firefighters were recruited by their firefighter family members and were surveyed as the control group. Risk factors for AF, stroke, and transient ischemic attack (TIA) were evaluated.

Firefighters in the study were 93.5% men; 95.5% were aged 60 years or older; 92.2% were White, American Indian, or Alaskan Native; 89% were career firefighters; and 15.4% had prior military experience.


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AF was self-reported among 2.9% of men and 0.9% of women (P =.005). In all cases, the prevalence of AF was higher among individuals who reported having comorbidities (all P £.042).

Stratified by the number of fires fought per year, a linear positive relationship was observed between fires fought and lifetime prevalence of AF (0-5 fires: 2.01% vs ³31 fires: 4.55%) but not with stroke or TIA (0-5 fires: 0.72% vs ³31 fires: 0.76%).

Significant predictors for AF included being a man (adjusted odds ratio [aOR], 2.98; 95% CI, 1.22-7.25; P =.017), history of hypertension (aOR, 2.75; 95% CI, 2.13-3.53; P <.001), obstructive sleep apnea (aOR, 1.89; 95% CI, 1.44-2.48; P <.001), and number of fires fought per year (aOR, 1.14; 1.04-1.25; P =.006). Younger age (<60 years; aOR, 0.50; 95% CI, 0.34-0.73; P <.001) and alcohol use (aOR, 0.68; 95% CI, 0.52-0.89; P =.004) decreased risk for AF.

Predictors of stroke or TIA included traditional risk factors such as AF, diabetes, hypertension, anticoagulation use, and age (all P £.043) and not number of fires fought (aOR, 1.01; 95% CI, 0.85-1.2; P =.898).

This study may have been limited by relying on self-reported health status and by grouping retired firefighters with non- firefighters as the control group.

“Through survey-based collection of data from over 10,000 respondents, this study has shown that increased prevalence of AF in [firefighters] is associated with increased exposure to the firefighting environment,” the researchers noted. “Further research into causal relationships, underlying mechanisms, and risk mitigation strategies is crucial and will lead to a better understanding of cardiovascular risk factors in [firefighting] and the ability to protect and care for [firefighters] in the line of duty.”

Reference

Vanchiere C, Thirumal R, Hendrani A, et al. Association between atrial fibrillation and occupational exposure in firefighters based on self-reported survey data. J Am Heart Assoc. Published online March 23, 2022. doi:10.1161/JAHA.121.022543