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University of Iowa News Release

June 29, 2004

10 Years Of Studies On Gulf War Veterans' Health Reviewed

Veterans of the 1991 Gulf War have had an increased risk of injury, mental health diagnoses and multi-symptom condition diagnoses, but a unique Gulf War syndrome is unlikely to be identified, according to a review of 10 years of published research.

The review, published in the June 2004 issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, was headed by Gregory C. Gray, M.D. (left), University of Iowa professor of epidemiology.

"Since the 1991 Gulf War, an estimated $1 billion of health evaluations and research have been invested in understanding illnesses among Gulf War veterans," Gray said. "We reviewed studies involving health care utilization to summarize what has been learned from these efforts."

The authors reviewed numerous hospitalization and ambulatory care reports as well as data from four different national Gulf War health registries established by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Department of Defense, the United Kingdom and Canada.

Studies showed that Gulf War veterans, at least for several years after the war, were at increased risk of injuries as compared to their non-deployed peers. Some researchers speculate that some of the increase in injury risk may have been present prior to deployment; other possible explanations include increased stress, increased alcohol use, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and neurological dysfunction.

Research also demonstrated that Gulf War veterans are at increased risk of utilizing mental health resources and receiving diagnoses of PTSD, depression, chronic fatigue, reduced cognitive functioning, multiple chemical sensitivity and mood disorders.

The authors of the review noted that studies thus far have failed to identify a unique set of symptoms or clinical signs that could be termed a "Gulf War syndrome."

"The cluster of symptoms that Gulf War veterans report overlap with those of various multi-symptom conditions, as well as with conditions that veterans from previous conflicts have experienced," Gray said. "Additionally, most researchers agree that, due to limitations in available Gulf War veteran data, a unique syndrome is unlikely to be identified with Gulf War service."

The term "multi-symptom condition" is used by many researchers to describe a group of overlapping, rather non-specifically described conditions that are symptom-based, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, irritable bowel syndrome and chronic-fatigue syndrome. Multi-symptom conditions are now the focus of significant research.

In their conclusions, the reviewers recommended that federal research evaluate possible therapies for multi-symptom conditions and focus on identifying risk factors for the development of post-deployment symptom-based conditions.

"If military personnel who may be prone to developing multi-symptom conditions can be identified early in their service, special training and interventions might be used to reduce the occurrence of these illnesses and help them cope with the stressors of warfare," Gray noted.

Additional authors of the review included Gary D. Gackstetter, D.V.M., Ph.D., Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Md.; Han K. Kang, Dr.P.H., Environmental Epidemiology Service, Department of Veterans Affairs, Washington, D.C; John T. Graham, British Liaison Officer (Gulf Health), Defence Staff, British Embassy, Washington, D.C.; and Ken C. Scott, M.D., Deputy Chief of Staff, Medical Policy, Canadian Forces, Ottawa, Ontario.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa College of Public Health Office of Communications, 4257 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242.

MEDIA CONTACT: Debra Venzke, 319-335-9647, debra-venzke@uiowa.edu