Gulf War syndrome is the name given to a variety of psychological and physical symptoms suffered by veterans of the Gulf War. The symptoms have been remarkably wide-ranging, sometimes somewhat ill-defined, and distinguished by the number of theories advanced as to their origin.
Various causes of Gulf War Syndrome have been suggested:
- Depleted uranium poisoning
- The side-effects of drugs given for protection against nerve agents
- Autoimmune diseases induced by squalene, an adjuvant used in anthrax vaccines to speed up the development of anthrax immunity.
- Biological or chemical weapons whose use has not been disclosed or discovered
- Fumes from oil well fires
- Aspartame poisoning. Large quantities of aspartame sweetened diet soft drinks were provided to Gulf War troops, often times sitting in high temperature conditions. This artificial sweetener breaks down at roughly 85 °F (29.5 °C) into, among other things, methanol, formaldehyde, diketopiperazine and formic acid.
In November, 2004, an independent British study concluded, for the first time, that thousands of UK and US Gulf War veterans were made ill by their service. The report concluded Gulf veterans were twice as likely to suffer from ill health than if they had been deployed elsewhere. It concluded the illnesses suffered were the result of a combination of causes. These included multiple injections of vaccines, the use of organophosphate pesticides to spray tents, low level exposure to nerve gas, and the inhalation of depleted uranium dust.
The study is the first to suggest a direct link between military service in the Gulf and illnesses suffered by veterans of that war and directly contradicts previous theories which had suggested GWS was not a physical illness, but a response to the stresses of war. Similar syndromes have been seen as an after effect of many conflicts – for example, ‘shell shock’ after World War I, and post-traumatic stress disorder after the Vietnam War. If this were true, the unfortunate effect is that the psychologically based therapy that might help support those affected in their very real distress, is neglected in favour of a futile search for a non-existent physical cause: and repeated studies where a particular cause is found to be unconnected become regarded as further evidence for a cover-up by the authorities.
Another possibility is that some or all of the symptoms experienced are unrelated to service in the Gulf. A study for the United Kingdom Ministry of Defence found no correlation between service in the Gulf and death from illness.
Although not identifying Gulf War syndrome by name, in June of 2003 the High Court of England and Wales upheld a claim by Shaun Rusling that the depression, eczema, fatigue, nausea and breathing problems that he experienced after returning from the Gulf War were attributed to his military service.
A 2004 British study comparing 24,000 Gulf War veterans to a control group of 18,000 men found that those who had taken part in the Gulf war have lower fertility and are 40 to 50% more likely to be unable to start a pregnancy. Among Gulf war soldiers, failure to conceive was 2.5% vs. 1.7% in the control group, and the rate of miscarriage was 3.4% vs. 2.3%. These differences are small but statistically significant.
In January 2006, a study led by Melvin Blanchard and published by the Journal of Epidemiology, part of the “National Health Survey of Gulf War-Era Veterans and Their Families”, stated that veterans deployed in the Persian Gulf War had nearly twice the prevalence of chronic multisymptom illness (CMI), a cluster of symptoms similar to a set of conditions often called Gulf War Syndrome.
Many U.S. veterans of the 2003 Iraq War have reported a range of serious health issues, including tumors, daily blood in urine and stool, sexual dysfunction, migraines, frequent muscle spasms, and other symptoms similar to the debilitating symptoms of “Gulf War Syndrome” reported by many veterans of the 1991 Gulf War, which some believe is related to the continued United States’ use of radioactive depleted uranium (Associated Press, August 12, 2006).
Relationship between Gulf War Syndrome and Multiple Chemical Sensitivity
The symptoms of Gulf War Syndrome are remarkably similar to those associated with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) leading some to believe that they are related. This similarity, and the fact that there is no medical test that will diagnose either (because of a lack of coherent symptoms and lack of a clear definition), has led most experts to conclude that neither illness is physical but purely psychosomatic. Others, mostly adherents of alternative medicine, believe that the cause of the illness is physical, although as yet unidentifiable, and that it will eventually be pinpointed, leading to the legitimisation of the illness and the development of successful treatments. This has occurred with asthma, allergies, repetitive strain injury and many other previously ‘dubious’ complaints. However, asthma, allergies, and RSI have distinct and identifiable symptoms, which the Gulf War Syndrome and MCS have not. Also, the symptoms of asthma and allergies remain the same in double-blind tests, while the symptoms of MCS disappear in test where the subject is unaware of exposure to suspected substances.
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