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Health Library : Environmental Medicine


Gulf War Syndrome

What is Gulf War syndrome?

Gulf War syndrome is a widely used term to refer to the unexplained illnesses occurring in veterans of the 1991 Gulf War.

What are the symptoms of Gulf War syndrome?

The following are the most common symptoms of Gulf War syndrome. However, each person experiences symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Musculoskeletal pain
  • Cognitive problems
  • Skin rashes
  • Diarrhea
Symptoms of Gulf War syndrome may resemble other medical conditions. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis. Symptoms continue to pose a frustrating problem for affected veterans and their doctors. Despite extensive research, the cause of the syndrome remains unexplained.

How many veterans are impacted by the Gulf War syndrome?

According to a report released by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) in 2013, about one-third of Gulf War veterans suffer from chronic multisymptom illness (CMI), which is a series of symptoms that cannot be medically explained.

What are the possible causes of Gulf War syndrome?

Possible causes include:

  • Chemical warfare agents, particularly nerve gas, or pyridostigmine bromide, which was given as a preventive measure to soldiers likely to be exposed to chemical warfare agents.
  • Psychological factors, such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Veterans with Gulf War syndrome symptoms have high rates of accompanying psychiatric disorders.
  • Other chemical agents, such as smoke from oil well fires, pesticides, depleted uranium or exposure to solvents and corrosive liquids, used during repair and maintenance.

What is the treatment for Gulf War syndrome?

While there is no specific treatment for Gulf War syndrome, research suggests than an approach called cognitive-behavioral therapy may help patients with nonspecific symptoms syndromes lead more productive lives by actively managing their symptoms.

On behalf of the Department of Veterans Affairs, the IOM conducted a study and released a report recommending that for veterans who are experiencing symptoms related to CMI, an integrated, system-wide, long-term management approach should be implemented.

Research into Gulf War syndrome, which remains controversial, is taking place in research centers around the country. Please consult your doctor with any questions or concerns you may have regarding this condition.

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