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Gulf War Illness: 10 Years Later

Veterans Deployed to Persian Gulf Have More Chronic Fatigue, Fibromyalgia
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June 6, 2005 -- Ten years after the end of the 1991 war with Iraq, the physical health of veterans who served in the Persian Gulf was similar to that of veterans who served elsewhere, with several notable exceptions, a new study shows.

Gulf War veterans were more likely than veterans who served outside the Gulf to have chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. The two conditions share many of the same symptoms with what has come to be known as Gulf War syndrome, including fatigue, joint and muscle pain, chronic headache, and memory problems.

But researcher Seth A. Eisen, MD, tells WebMD that the overall message of the U.S. Veterans Affairs Administration study is positive. "In the vast majority of veterans who participated in this study, we did not identify any health differences between those who served in the

Gulf and those who didn't 10 years later," he says.

Illness Common After War

Approximately 700,000 U.S. servicemen and women served in the Persian Gulf during the 1991 war with Iraq. While combat casualties were low, reports of illness following the war's end were common.

The scientific evidence in favor of a distinct medical syndrome associated with serving in the Gulf War has been mixed, however.

In this latest study, VA researchers examined the prevalence of 12 different medical conditions among 1,061 Gulf War veterans who served in the Persian Gulf and 1,128 veterans who served at the same time but were not deployed to the Gulf. The findings are published in the June 7 issue of the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

Between 1999 and 2001, physicians and research nurses at 16 VA medical centers took detailed medical histories and performed physical examinations on all of the study participants. The average age of the veterans who participated in the study was 40 at examination; roughly one in five of them were women and four out of five were white.

Conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, hepatitis, and obstructive lung disease were no more common among the Gulf-deployed veterans than among those not deployed to the Gulf. But those who served in the Gulf were 40 times more likely to have a diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome, even though overall the rate of the disorder in both groups was small. Just over 1% of deployed veterans had chronic fatigue syndrome, compared with 0.1% of nondeployed veterans.

The deployed veterans were twice as likely as nondeployed veterans to have a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, almost twice as likely to experience frequent indigestion, and 40% more likely to have skin rashes.

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