We frequently get questions that come in through our blog relating to specific problems that drivers have and their concern with regards to their ability to drive. One that recently came in related to having a heart attack and if this will cause the driver to be disqualified.
The answer is a most likely no after the driver fully recovers, but an occasional yes.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., and for truck drivers, who spend hours sitting behind the wheel, inactivity and lack of exercise can create a much greater risk for heart disease and problems. It should not simply be viewed as a concern for passing your DOT physical, but more importantly, as a major health issue, one that can lead to a much shorter life.
TRUCK DRIVERS & HEART PROBLEMS
As mentioned heart problems, not just heart attacks themselves, are very prevalent among truck drivers. There are many risk factors that you should consider, and they generally fall into two categories: factors you can change, and factors you can’t.
Age and family history are two important risk factors that you simply cannot change. You simply cannot get any younger, and getting older increases your chances of heart-related issues. The same with family history. If you have a parent or sibling who has suffered a heart-attack, especially under the age of 55, you are more likely to have a heart-attack yourself. While you cannot do anything about these factors, there are a number of other risk factors that you can manage successfully.
A few examples of modifiable risk factors include such things as diet, smoking, exercise, blood pressure, cholesterol, and weight. While getting some of these factors under control can be challenging, it’s encouraging to know that these factors are changeable, and can be effected by anyone willing to put in the effort. By positively changing these modifiable risk factors, truck drivers can significantly reduce their risk of suffering a heart attack.
EARLY WARNING SIGNS OF HEART ATTACKS [MYOCARDIAL INFRACTION OR MI]
No matter your risk level, it is very important that you understand the signs and symptoms of a heart attack. The biggest sign is chest discomfort or pain that lasts more than a few minutes. The pain usually feels like a pressure or squeezing. Discomfort in other areas one or both arms, the neck, jaw, stomach or back can also be symptoms of a heart attack. Shortness of breath is another sign of a heart attack, and this often times occurs without chest discomfort. Some additional signs include nausea, and lightheadedness, or cold sweats. If you experience any of these symptoms, don’t take any chances and seek immediate medical help. This could save your life!
WHAT ARE THE GUIDELINES & REGULATIONS ASSOCIATED WITH HEART ATTACKS?
If you have suffered a heart attack there are a number of things a driver needs to understand before going into their DOT physical exam that may impact whether they will be disqualified or certified to drive a truck.
- If this is a new episode (it just happened), you should have a new exam before you go back to driving even if you still have more time left on your current certification card.
- Drivers who have just had a heart attack MUST undergo a 2 month waiting period before they can drive again. This is mandatory, regardless of what your cardiologist says.
- Before returning to work, the driver must have medical clearance in writing from their cardiologist stating that they can return without restrictions. Remember, there is no light duty allowed for truck drivers. It’s an all or nothing proposition!
- Also, know the medications you are on, and ask the cardiologist to give you clearance for use of these medications too. This will eliminate any potential issues you may face regarding these medications and your ability to drive a truck.
- Additionally, before returning to work from a recent heat attack, the driver will have to have an exercise tolerance test (ETT) and echocardiogram (ECG), both of which must meet minimum requirements (for an ETT the driver must meet 6 METS, and for the ECG the Left Ventricular Ejection Fraction must be at least 40%). If the driver does not meet these minimum testing requirements, they will be disqualified (anything less would indicate severe heart damage and poor heart function and the driver would be at significant risk of future heart problems).
- The certification time will be 1 year from the date of the exam, and will be 1 year for each subsequent certification period for the rest of the driver’s career.
- Each year following the initial certification the driver will require medical clearance from their cardiologist annually.
- Every 2 years thereafter, another ETT will be required which of course must meet at least 6 METS or the driver will be disqualified.
Some additional considerations relate to possible treatment associated with this type of heart problem. Drivers who are at risk for or who have had a heart attack often times have hardening of the arteries around the heart leading to a decreased blood supply. This often requires such treatments as in having a stent put in or even having bypass surgery. Each of these procedures for your heart has their own waiting period, and testing requirements. That said, like with heart attacks, they will always require medical clearance from a cardiologist annually and the maximum certification will always be for 1 year.
WHAT SHOULD A TRUCK DRIVER DO?
Make sure that you are prepared for your exam before you go in and remember the 2 month waiting period. It is senseless to go in before the waiting period ends as you will automatically be disqualified from driving and need another exam after the waiting period to begin driving again.
Also remember to obtain medical clearance and have your required testing scheduled should you need the testing BEFORE you are do for your exam. Waiting to the last second can often times lead to delays in certification due to the difficulty in getting an appointment and scheduling the testing. Give yourself 3 months to set all of this up. Once completed, you will be able to present this information to the medical examiner when you go into your exam, thereby eliminating any delay in certification based on these requirements.
For those using the FREE driver mobile app, all of this information is within the app, and clearance letters are available for your use for heart attacks as well as all other conditions that have a regulation or guidance attached to.