A study of UK Gulf war servicemen, the largest to date, shows that forces deployed to the first Gulf War report more ill health than veterans who did not serve there. The study is published today in BMC Public Health.
Rebecca Simmons, Noreen Maconochie and Pat Doyle from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine found that Gulf war veterans were more likely to report mood swings, memory loss/lack of concentration, night sweats, general fatigue and sexual dysfunction than armed forces personnel who had not served in the Gulf.
This pattern of symptom reporting is similar to that found in other studies of UK Gulf war veterans, which looked at the same population using different methods. The study confirmed that Gulf war veterans report significantly more symptoms of disease than non-Gulf war veterans in almost all ill health categories examined, yet there is still no consistent explanation for this discrepancy.
More than 1 in every 20 UK servicemen who served in the first Gulf war believes that they have Gulf war Syndrome.
However, in common with other studies of veterans, those who thought that they might have Gulf war syndrome reported exactly the same types of symptom as veterans who had not been deployed to the Gulf. They just reported these symptoms at higher frequencies. This finding provides evidence against a unique Gulf war syndrome
The researchers sent a questionnaire to all UK armed forces personnel who had been deployed to the Gulf area some time between August 1990 and June 1991. Over 24,000 men responded, using free text responses to detail their current state of health and report any changes in their health status since 1990.
The most common conditions reported by Gulf war veterans included skeletal and other muscular symptoms (15.1%), general fatigue (10.8%), memory loss/lack of concentration (7.9%) and skin allergies (7.6%).
Questionnaire responses from Gulf war veterans were compared with answers from 18,439 male armed-service personnel who had not served in the Gulf.
61% of Gulf war veterans reported at least one new medical symptom since 1990, compared with 37% of non-Gulf war veterans.
“This study is consistent with other research showing an excess of non-specific self-reported ill health in Gulf war veterans, and the findings do not support the existence of a unique syndrome in this group,” said Rebecca Simmons.
The authors say, “There is a need to improve routine health surveillance and record-keeping both pre- and post-deployment. This surveillance should lead to more effective prevention and treatment programs that reduce the burden of post-war illness.”