Gulf War syndrome (GWS), also known as Gulf War illness (GWI), is a chronic multisymptom disorder affecting returning military veterans and civilian workers of the Persian Gulf War. A wide range of acute and chronic symptoms have been linked to it, including fatigue, muscle pain, cognitive problems, rashes and diarrhea. Approximately 250,000 of the 697,000 veterans who served in the 1991 Gulf War are afflicted with enduring chronic multi-symptom illness, a condition with serious consequences.
From 1995 to 2005, the health of combat veterans worsened in comparison with non-deployed veterans, with the onset of more new chronic diseases, functional impairment, repeated clinic visits and hospitalizations, chronic fatigue syndrome-like illness, posttraumatic stress disorder, and greater persistence of adverse health incidents.
According to a report by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan may also suffer from the syndrome.
Suggested causes have included depleted uranium, sarin gas, smoke from burning oil wells, vaccinations, combat stress and psychological factors, though only pyridostigmine (an antitoxin for nerve agents) and organophosphate pesticides have been conclusively linked.
VA has classified as certain conditions as “presumptive” of Gulf War Syndrome. Those are:
Chronic fatigue syndrome, a condition of long-term and severe fatigue that is not relieved by rest and is not directly caused by other conditions.
Fibromyalgia, a condition characterized by widespread muscle pain. Other symptoms may include insomnia, morning stiffness, headache, and memory problems.
Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, a group of conditions marked by chronic or recurrent symptoms related to any part of the gastrointestinal tract. Functional condition refers to an abnormal function of an organ, without a structural alteration in the tissues. Examples include irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), functional dyspepsia, and functional abdominal pain syndrome.
Undiagnosed illnesses with symptoms that may include but are not limited to: abnormal weight loss, fatigue, cardiovascular disease, muscle and joint pain, headache, menstrual disorders, neurological and psychological problems, skin conditions, respiratory disorders, and sleep disturbances.
VA has also classified certain Infectious Diseases as “presumptive” for Gulf War Syndrome:
- Malaria, an infectious disease caused by a parasite. Symptoms include chills, fever, and sweats. It must be at least 10% disabling within 1 year from the date of military separation or at a time when standard or accepted treatises indicate that the incubation period began during a qualifying period of military service.
- Brucellosis, a bacterial disease with symptoms such as profuse sweating and joint and muscle pain. The illness may be chronic and persist for years. It must be at least 10% disabling within 1 year from the date of military separation.
- Campylobacter Jejuni, a disease with symptoms such as abdominal pain, diarrhea, and fever. It must be at least 10% disabling within 1 year from the date of military separation.
- CoxiellaBurnetii (Q Fever), a bacterial disease with symptoms such as fever, severe headache, and gastrointestinal problems such as nausea and diarrhea. In chronic cases, the illness may cause inflammation of the heart. It must be at least 10% disabling within 1 year from the date of military separation.
- Mycobacterium Tuberculosis, an illness that primarily affects the lungs and causes symptoms such as chest pain, persistent cough (sometimes bloody), weight loss and fever.
- Nontyphoid Salmonella, a condition characterized by symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. It must be at least 10% disabling within 1 year from the date of military separation.
- Shigella, a condition characterized by symptoms such as fever, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. It must be at least 10% disabling within 1 year from the date of military separation.
- Visceral Leishmaniasis, a parasitic disease characterized by symptoms such as fever, weight loss, enlargement of the spleen and liver, and anemia. The condition may be fatal if left untreated.
- West Nile Virus, a disease spread by mosquitoes characterized by symptoms such as fever, headache, muscle pain or weakness, nausea, and vomiting. Symptoms may range from mild to severe. It must be at least 10% disabling within 1 year from the date of military separation.