Dr. Bryant Webber, of the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland, recently led a study that found one in twelve U.S. service members, who died in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, had plaque buildup in the arteries around their hearts.
None had been diagnosed with heart disease before deployment, according to the study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association last week.
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The study came from autopsies done on U.S. soldiers who died in October 2001 through August 2011 during combat or from unintentional injuries.
Dr. Webber told Reuters: "These are people who are asymptomatic, they feel fine, they're deployed into combat. It just proves again the point that we know that this is a clinically silent disease, meaning people can go years without being diagnosed, having no signs or symptoms of the disease."
Dr. Webber said there's more work that can be done to encourage people to adopt a healthy lifestyle and reduce their risks.
Heart disease accounts for about one in four deaths (about 600,000 Americans each year), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Service members who had been obese or had high cholesterol or high blood pressure when they entered the military were especially likely to have plaque buildup.