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Gulf War Illness: General Information

  • Synopsis: Published: 2016-01-20 - Information regarding Gulf War Illness, also referred to as chronic multi-symptom illness in veterans of the Gulf War. For further information pertaining to this article contact: Thomas C. Weiss at Disabled World.
Gulf War Illness

Gulf War syndrome (GWS), also known as Desert Storm Diseases or Gulf War illness (GWI), is defined as a chronic multi-symptom disorder affecting returning military veterans and civilian workers of the 1990-91 Gulf War. Medical ailments associated with Gulf War syndrome have been recognized by the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. A prominent condition affecting Gulf War Veterans is a cluster of medically unexplained chronic symptoms that can include fatigue, headaches, joint pain, indigestion, insomnia, dizziness, respiratory disorders, and memory problems. Veterans from every country that made up the Coalition forces have been affected; in the US alone more than 110,000 cases had been reported by 1999.

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Quote: "A common hypothesis is that the symptoms of Gulf War Illness are due to chemical exposure instead of brain injury or stress."

'Gulf War Illness,' is a commonly used term which refers to the presence of a number of undiagnosed illnesses in veterans of the Gulf War of 1991. The illness includes several widely divergent symptoms such as headaches, tiredness, indigestion, joint pain, memory difficulties and sleep issues. It affects from one-fourth to one-third of the veterans who fought in the war.

Many of the symptoms are without an obvious cause. The condition is therefore also referred to as, 'chronic multi-symptom illness,' in veterans of the Gulf War. A diagnosis is achieved when the veteran's symptoms exist for six months or more and cause ten-percent or more disability. There are some possible etiologies, which include:

  • Exposure to nerve gas
  • Other psychiatric disorders
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Pre-medication with pyridostigmine bromide as a preventative measure against the effects of nerve gas

Exposure to toxic chemicals other than those directly used in warfare, including burning oil fumes, uranium which has been used in nuclear plants or bombs called, 'depleted uranium,' pesticides, or chemicals used in the repair and service of war machinery, is another potential etiology.

A common hypothesis is that the symptoms of Gulf War Illness are due to chemical exposure instead of brain injury or stress. Support for this theory comes from clinical trials which show that improvement in multiple symptoms was reported in an astonishing 80% of veterans when they took high doses of Coenzyme Q or, 'CoQ.' CoQ is a chemical that is an anti-oxidant which supports mitochondrial function.

The improvement in symptoms correlated with the dosage of CoQ and was seen with both physical symptoms such as tiredness, muscle aches and psychological and cognitive symptoms such as irritability and memory loss. In addition, mitochondrial function was found to be impaired in veterans who are affected, pointing to a potential causative link.

Another suggestion has been that Gulf War Illness subjects had a genetic makeup which reduced or slowed detoxification processes in the cell, permitting pesticides or other toxic chemicals to accumulate in a veteran's body over time. Some important manifestations include the following:

  • Post-Exertional Malaise: Unusual tiredness following any mental or physical effort.
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Unexplained, continuous severe tiredness which persists after rest.
  • Skin Symptoms: Symptoms related to the skin such as rashes, as well as menstrual or psychological symptoms.
  • Fibromyalgia: Widespread muscle pain, with or without muscular stiffness upon awakening; sleeplessness, headache and memory deficits.
  • Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders: A group of illnesses marked by chronic or repeated bouts of gastrointestinal symptoms without any demonstrable physical cause such as diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, or symptoms of indigestion without explainable cause.

Treatment of Gulf War Illness is mainly symptomatic.

After excluding an organic cause for the symptoms, cognitive-behavioral therapy or, 'CBT,' has been found to be a very useful tool in assisting to restore regularity and usefulness to the lives of those affected. Other researchers have focused on the use of intranasal insulin to reduce neuronal inflammation. The inflammation is postulated to be the result of exposure to mixed, toxic chemicals and might cause continuing activation of the immune system, leading to several symptoms.

Related Information:

  1. Glossary of US Veteran Affairs Definitions - Barry White
  2. CoQ10 Helps Veterans Relieve Symptoms of Gulf War Illness - University of California - San Diego
  3. VA Extends Coverage for Gulf War Veterans - Veterans News


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