Gulf War Syndrome
GULF WAR SYNDROME
Gulf War syndrome, or Gulf War illness, refers to a group of poorly understood symptomatic illnesses afflicting veterans of the 1990–1991 Persian Gulf War. The most characteristic symptoms are fatigue, musculoskeletal complaints, and psychiatric complaints of emotional distress, anxiety, and cognitive problems. To date, no specific underlying physical abnormalities have been identified, which links Gulf War illness to other medically unexplained syndromes such as chronic fatigue syndrome and multiple chemical sensitivity. In fact, substantial proportions of ill Gulf War veterans have complaints consistent with these other conditions.
Medically unexplained symptoms have been common in soldiers who have returned from previous deployments. The symptoms among Gulf War veterans are somewhat different from those noted after previous conflicts, however. Further, complaints of contemporary soldiers who were not deployed to the Persian Gulf are similar in character, though the symptoms occur at substantially greater rates, and with greater severity, among those deployed to the Gulf.
Specific causes for Gulf War illness are unknown. The presence of similar complaints in those not deployed to the Gulf suggests that a unique Gulf War exposure is not the sole cause. While individuals with complaints report higher rates of exposure to various toxins in the Gulf, including pesticides, anti-nerve gas pills, immunizations, and exploding missiles, these associations are not regarded as definitive at this time, with recall and information bias being very problematic. Because of this uncertainty, prevention efforts have been nonspecific and aimed at a reduction of various stressors and an improvement in risk communication with at-risk soldiers. Further research is ongoing.
HOWARD M. KIPEN
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