Scientists in the United States have found that some veterans of the first Gulf War have differences in their brain structure.
According to the researchers brain scans of those who complained of multiple neurological and psychological symptoms showed significant differences in brain structures from their fellow Gulf War veterans without numerous symptoms.
Dr. Roberta White of Boston University School of Public Health says although the cause of the differences is unclear it is suspected that they are related to exposure to hazardous substances during the first Gulf War.
Possibly more of a concern is that it appears that the structural brain differences correlate with poorer performance on neuropsychological tests.
Dr. White says the research findings are important in view of the fact that the Institute of Medicine and other groups appear to hold the view that Gulf War veterans have psychiatric disease and there is no physical basis for the kinds of symptoms they complain of.
Dr. White also says it was 20 years before the effects of Agent Orange in Vietnam were acknowledged and now 16 years after the Gulf War the effects on the health and central nervous system function of these veterans is being seen.
The study involved 36 "healthy" veterans of the first Gulf War (1990-1991); half had more than five symptoms, such as joint pain, fatigue, forgetfulness, headaches, skin rash, nausea and difficulty concentrating while the other half had five or less symptoms.
The researchers found that two areas of the brain involved in thinking and memory were significantly smaller in the vets with a high number of symptoms than in the vets with fewer symptoms and they did not perform as well on tests of learning and memory.
White says the test scores correlated with the structural imaging data.
Dr. White says many Gulf War troops were exposed to potentially harmful substances such as pesticides and research has shown that exposures to such substances can affect the central nervous system.
The results of the U.S. government-funded study are preliminary say the researchers but provide evidence that veterans from the 1990-1991 conflict are suffering from a real neurological illness.
The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and is being presented at the American Academy of Neurology in Boston.