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Panel Confirms PTSD In Gulf War Veterans

April 10, 2010

A panel of experts said on Friday that studies have confirmed that Gulf War veterans suffer disproportionately from post-traumatic stress disorder and other psychiatric illnesses as well as vague symptoms often classified as Gulf War Syndrome.

According to Reuters, the Institute of Medicine panel said better studies are needed to define clear patterns of distress and other symptoms among veterans of the conflicts in the Gulf region that started in 1990 and continues on today.

“It is clear that a significant portion of the soldiers deployed to the Gulf War have experienced troubling constellations of symptoms that are difficult to categorize,” said Stephen Hauser, chairman of the department of neurology at the University of California, San Francisco, to Maggie Fox of Reuters.

The experts did not say whether or not Gulf War Syndrome existed, but they did note that veterans had “multisymptom illness.”

“Unfortunately, symptoms that cannot be easily quantified are sometimes incorrectly dismissed as insignificant and receive inadequate attention and funding by the medical and scientific establishment,” Hauser added in a statement.

“Veterans who continue to suffer from these symptoms deserve the very best that modern science and medicine can offer to speed the development of effective treatments, cures, and — we hope — prevention.”

The panel reviewed 400 studies for their report and concluded that there was tantalizing evidence in many cases, but just not enough data to back it up.

They found many reports of “seemingly related symptoms, including persistent fatigue, chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, memory problems, headache, bodily pains, disturbances of sleep, as well as other physical and emotional problems.”

However, doctors struggle to categorize because there is no known cause, no diagnostic biomarkers and no way to find traces in tissue.

Studies have shown significant evidence that veterans suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorder and substance abuse 0 particularly alcohol abuse – and gastrointestinal disorders like irritable bowel syndrome.

There is also evidence of “multisymptom illness” among U.S., British and Australian veterans, but not clear enough evidence to show what the source is.

“It is beyond dispute, however, that the prevalence of symptoms such as headaches, joint pain, and difficulty concentrating, is higher in veterans deployed to the Gulf War theater than the others,” the report reads.

The experts found limited evidence that Gulf War veterans have higher rates of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which is also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease. 

Veterans also appear to face fibromyalgia and chronic widespread pain, sexual difficulties and deaths from car accidents.

Little evidence can be found to link cancer, blood disease, hormone imbalances, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, birth defects, pregnancy or fertility problems to the veterans history in the war.

The experts said more thorough studies need to be done to follow veterans long-term and catalog their illnesses.  The report added, “a second branch of inquiry is also important.”

“It consists of a renewed research effort to identify and treat multisymptom illness in Gulf War veterans.”

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