Clinical Brief

Is There Gulf War Syndrome?

Military veterans from the United Kingdom who were stationed in the Persian Gulf during the Gulf War from Sept. 1, 1990, until June 30, 1991 (n = 53,462) have reported impaired physical functioning, psychological morbidity, and perception of poor physician health more frequently than individuals not deployed in this area. A similar picture has been reported for U.S. servicepersons. Using a population-based cross-sectional design, Ismail and colleagues sent a standardized survey about 50 physician symptoms to 12,592 men who had served in either the Gulf War or Bosnia, or servicemen who had not been deployed overseas.

The most commonly reported symptoms were headaches, irritability, sleeping difficulties, feeling jumpy, feeling unrefreshed after sleep, fatigue, feeling cut off from others, forgetfulness, loss of concentration, avoidance behaviors, distressing dreams, difficulty breathing deeply, tachypnea, dyspnea, wheezing, and numbness or tingling in extremities. The structure of correlations between symptoms was similar among Gulf War veterans to Bosnia veterans, or servicemen not deployed abroad.

Ismail et al conclude that, although results from complex modeling procedures must be interpreted with caution, the data do not support a unique Gulf War syndrome.

Ismail, K, et al. Lancet 1999;353:179-182.