While diverse groups of Gulf War (GW) veterans continue to report a number of symptoms collectively known as Gulf War Illness, uncertainty surrounds the prevalence of the symptoms compared to non-Gulf War veterans.
Now, a new study led by a Boston University School of Public Health researcher has found that Gulf War veterans suffer disproportionately from a variety of symptoms, including headaches, fatigue, lack of sleep, and memory problems.
The study was published in BMJ.
“This study shows that although these common symptoms can occur in both deployed and non-deployed veterans, there is an excess of these symptoms in the deployed veterans,” says co-author Dr. Patricia Janulewicz, assistant professor of environmental health. “This study addresses the criticism that these symptoms can occur in non-deployed groups and therefore do not constitute a unique syndrome.”
To better identify the most frequently reported symptoms in GW veterans compared to non-GW veterans, the researchers analyzed data from 21 studies on self-reported health symptoms from 129,000 veterans deployed during the war. The studies came from 18 unique veteran populations and four different countries and included both active duty and reserve troops. From these studies, the researchers identified 56 distinct self-reported health symptoms.
The researchers found that GW-deployed veterans had much higher odds of reporting all 56 symptoms compared to non-GW deployed veterans. When compared by symptom category, the highest odds of symptom reporting were found in the mood-cognition, musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal, and dermatological symptom categories, with GW-deployed veterans three times as likely as their counterparts to report experiencing detachment, irritability, muscle weakness, diarrhea, and rashes. The researchers also found that veterans from particular military units who were more likely to have sustained exposures to toxicant exposures during the war were up to four times more likely to report the same symptoms.