The US government learns more about the health of young Americans during times of war than any other period. Not because of extensive physical exams upon enlistment, but rather the thousands of autopsies performed on soldiers who die in the line of duty. Research results have been published from autopsies completed on young men during the Korean War, the Vietnam war, and now the latest in Afghanistan and Iraq. Only a tiny fraction of the information gleaned from the autopsies is ever revealed, but what we do know is that young, seemingly healthy men are actually sicker than we think.
In one published study, 3832 soldiers who died in support of operations Enduring Freedom and Iraq Freedom/New Dawn from October 2001 and August 2011 were evaluated for atherosclerosis, a condition that causes cardiovascular and heart disease. 464, or 12.1%, tested positive, and only 2 of them had been previously diagnosed. The soldiers in the study died at an average age of 26. Of those who were positive for atherosclerosis, 25% of them had severe cases. 98.3% of the autopsies were performed on men, but civilian studies show that the onset of atherosclerosis in women also occurs at a young age.
Atherosclerosis causes blood vessels to become clogged and, in vessels that deliver blood to the heart, atherosclerosis leads to heart disease and heart attacks. One in four Americans die from heart disease and it is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the US. According to thousands of autopsies performed on young people, it is evident that some of us are already on the road to an early heart attack.
The good news is that atherosclerosis prevention efforts will now be targeted to younger Americans and efforts to diagnosis and treat cardiovascular disease will be begin at an earlier age. Lives will be saved because of these interventions. Yet another reason to be grateful for the sacrifice of our fallen heroes.