GULF WAR ILLNESSES (GWI)
Gulf War illnesses (GWI) is the term for a constellation of conditions with similar symptoms reported by soldiers who served in the Persian Gulf from August 1990-July 1991, during the time of the Persian Gulf War. Chronic, disabling illness is far more common among Gulf War veterans than would be expected.
Symptoms of GWI
GWI patients commonly report symptoms of fatigue, headache, memory problems, sleep disturbances, skin rash, muscle or joint pain, breathlessness, irritability, and gastrointestinal problems.
In 1998 the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) developed the following definition for "chronic multi-symptom illness" to classify cases of GWI:
One or more chronic (more than 6 months) symptoms from two of the following categories:
- Mood and cognition (depression, difficulty concentrating, moodiness, anxiety, word-finding
- difficulties, sleep disturbance)
- Musculoskeletal (joint pain, joint stiffness, muscle pain)
The CDC further classified patients by severity of illness (mild-moderate or severe). Compared to military personnel who were not deployed to the Persian Gulf, veterans who served in the Gulf War were 8.6 times more likely to have "severe" illness and 2.8 times more likely to have "mild-moderate" illness. Most of those who met the definition for "severe" illness also met the case definition for chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS). Although women were a minority of the Gulf force, females were statistically more likely than males to have GWI.
Overlap with CFS
Rates of chronic multi-symptom illness and CFS are very similar in the general public and non-Gulf War military personnel. However in Gulf War veterans the rates are considerably higher, especially those for "severe" illness, which the CDC has found overlaps with CFS. CDC has called the Persian Gulf War the first documented cluster outbreak
of chronic fatigue syndrome.
Causes of GWI
Because of the widespread use of toxic chemicals and experimental vaccinations, and the reported presence of chemical/biological warfare compounds in the Gulf War, many believe that GWI was caused by exposure to toxins. This theory is supported by the three-fold increase in multiple chemical sensitivity(MCS) among Gulf War veterans.
As yet, no single substance has been identified as the cause of all
cases of GWI. Researchers have reported links with mycoplasma, depleted uranium, squalene, pyridostigmine
bromide, anthrax vaccine, burning oil well fires and many other toxic substances present in the Gulf
Ongoing research supported by the Department of Defense, Veterans Administration, National Institutes of Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and private foundations seeks to clarify these issues and work toward finding answers for those with GWI.