Multisymptom Illness Still Plagues Gulf War Vets

By Traci Pedersen
October 2nd, 2022
Medically reviewed by Paul Sietes, MD.
Multisymptom Illness Still Plagues Gulf War Veterans

American veterans who served in the 1990-1991 Gulf War continue to face higher rates of chronic and mysterious mental and physical ailments, compared to veterans of other recent wars in the Middle East.

In fact, according to an updated review in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, researchers found that veterans of the Gulf War are more than twice as likely to suffer from a variety of medically unexplained symptoms known as “multisymptom illness,” compared to Iraq/Afghanistan War veterans.

Multisymptom illness (MSI), previously known as the Gulf War Syndrome, refers to chronic, unexplained symptoms that affect a variety of body systems. These may include symptoms such as fatigue, headaches, insomnia, indigestion, dizziness, respiratory issues, mood or cognitive (thinking) problems, and joint and muscle pain.

The origin of this mysterious illness is still unknown, although it has been attributed to exposure to a combination of pesticides, vaccines, and other chemicals.

“Gulf War deployment continues to be strongly associated with increased MSI, affecting a considerable proportion of Gulf War veterans,” write Dr. Stella M. Gwini and colleagues of Monash University, Melbourne, Australia.

For the review, the researchers looked at data from seven previous studies analyzing the prevalence of MSI among veterans of the 1990-91 Gulf War as well as the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars. In addition to including some more recent, higher-quality studies, the review added an Australian study to previous data from the United States and the United Kingdom.

Although estimates varied widely, MSI prevalence was consistently quite a bit higher in veterans of the Gulf War: 26 to 65 percent, compared with 12 to 37 percent in Iraq/Afghanistan War veterans. On pooled data analysis, the odds of MSI were 2.5 times higher in Gulf War veterans versus other military groups. The odds were slightly lower in higher-quality studies.

Furthermore, veterans who had been deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan were more likely to have MSI than nondeployed personnel, but their risk was still lower than veterans who had been deployed to the Gulf War.

The new findings offer “updated and more robust estimates” of the risk of MSI in Gulf War veterans, compared to other military personnel.

Gwini and coauthors conclude that their findings “highlight the continuing problem and magnitude of MSI in Gulf War veterans, calling for ongoing awareness of the need for timely health assessments and health care.”

Source: Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine

Traci Pedersen is a professional writer with over a decade of experience. Her work consists of writing for both print and online publishers in a variety of genres including science chapter books, college and career articles, and elementary school curriculum.