Attrition: Battlefield Heart Attacks

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March 19,2008: One of the most common injuries for Americans in Iraq is chest pain, as in "I think I'm having a heart attack." Those who are hit with a serious case of this, get flown to an army hospital in Germany for additional care. About three percent of those flown out for medical care, are for chest pain. Combat casualties in Iraq have averaged about 130 a week over the last five years, although the number right now is less than half that. Yet several dozen troops, and U.S. civilian contractors, get hospitalized each week for chest pains. The stress of operating in a combat zone, especially during the hot weather, often produces chest pains that are not heart related. But about a third of the cases are, and dozens of older officers and NCOs have died from these heart attacks. The larger proportion of reservists and civilian contractors, who tend to be older (40s and 50s, compared to 20s and 30s for the active duty troops), is the major source of the heart pain patients. While these men and women (ten percent of the troops in Iraq are female) have had physical exams before going overseas, many heart conditions are hard to detect until there is a lot of stress. One thing Iraq has is a lot of stressful conditions.

 


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