Heart disease – a growing concern for the military

WTU Force Structure

By Annette P. Gomes, Warrior Care and Transition


Feb 02, 2017 – Red. It’s a bold color that often stands out and is synonymous with our hearts. It also signifies our fight against heart disease as we recognize National Wear Red Day on February 3rd. A day designated to raise awareness about this devastating disease. According to the Center for Disease Control, 1 in 4 women will lose their life to heart disease, the leading cause of death among women.

Col. Travis Richardson, a board certified Internist and the Staff Surgeon for the United States Army Medical Command, Deputy Chief of Staff for Warrior Care and Transition, says it’s a statistic that is a growing concern for military personnel.

“There are certainly women in the military with heart disease, but because of active duty standards, Army personnel with significant heart disease are usually found unfit for duty and medically retired. We certainly see a great number of retirees with significant heart disease in our military treatment facilities,” Richardson said.

Heart disease may be silent and not diagnosed until a woman experiences signs or symptoms of a heart attack, heart failure, an arrhythmia, or stroke. According to Col. Richardson, these are key symptoms to look for when dealing with this deadly disease.

“Symptoms of heart disease can be your typical symptoms to include chest pain, excessive sweating, shortness of breath, jaw pain or arm pain,” Richardson said. “But in many cases, symptoms may be more atypical to include heartburn/upper stomach pain, dizziness, swelling, nausea, numbness, fatigue or back pain. Atypical symptoms are more common in younger women which often times leads to a delay in diagnosis and treatment,” he explained.

According to the CDC, Almost 2/3 of the women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease have no previous symptoms. Even if you have no symptoms, you may still be at risk.

“Hereditary factors (family history) may impact the development of heart disease. We also know that diet, levels of activity and environmental factors also play a huge role in the development of heart disease. There are also specific diagnoses and habits that are significant risk factors for heart disease,” said Richardson. “These include obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes mellitus, and smoking. Other factors include gender (males are at greater risk), age (the older you get, the higher your risk), and being post-menopausal.”

Healthcare professionals note developing a healthy eating and exercise plan will also aid in preventing heart disease.

“For those who have already been diagnosed with heart disease, exercise is certainly advisable. But as with all medical conditions or diagnoses, we must be careful not to participate in activities that would worsen the condition,” Richardson said. “This includes over doing it as it relates to exercise. Anyone who has heart disease should always consult with their health care provider prior to participating in any exercise program. We certainly do know that a diet rich in fruits and vegetables is essential to good health and preventing most diseases, including heart disease.”

Richardson says there are a great number of initiatives and lines of effort across the Department of Defense and the Army to combat this disease.

“The movement over the past several years has been changing the conversation towards prevention and holistic health instead of chronic care management. This includes efforts such as the Performance Triad, which is sleep, activity, and nutrition, and Move the Health,” said Richardson. “The focus of these efforts is to prevent disease before it is diagnosed and to better manage disease once it is diagnosed. These efforts are also focused on all of our beneficiaries to include active duty, family members, and retirees.”