This chapter provides an overview of the rapidly growing body of published studies on the health of Gulf War veterans. Many of the studies described in this chapter have been released in the past few years, and the largest U.S. study of veterans’ health has yet to be completed. However, current research demonstrates that Gulf War veterans report more symptoms than their nondeployed counterparts, based on methodologically robust studies from three different countries (Iowa Persian Gulf Study Group, 1997; Goss Gilroy, 1998; Unwin et al., 1999). Symptoms relating to cognition, the musculoskeletal system, and fatigue are more prevalent among Gulf War veterans than controls. Further, many symptoms and their clustering do not appear to fit conventional diagnoses. The conundrum is whether or not these unexplained symptoms constitute a syndrome(s) and, if so, are they best studied and treated as a unique new syndrome(s) or a variant form(s) of an existing syndrome (e.g., chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia) (see Appendix D). The very lack of definition or classification of veterans’ unexplained illnesses has made it difficult to diagnose and treat many Gulf War veterans.
Additionally, the health studies reviewed in this chapter have found little or no excess mortality, hospitalizations, or birth defects in the children of veterans, although these studies have some limitations. Deployment to the Gulf War is associated with stress-related disorders, such as PTSD and depression. Yet a sizable number of veterans with unexplained symptoms do not have any psychiatric diagnoses. Further research is urgently needed to understand the nature of veterans’ unexplained symptoms and their relationship to their experience in the Gulf War.
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