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Friday, December 30, 2005

Gulf War syndrome persists in US troops after 10 years: study

Thu Dec 29,11:29 PM ET

CHICAGO (AFP) - ' Gulf War syndrome', a debilitating multi-symptom affliction identified in many soldiers after the 1991 conflict in Kuwait, is likely to strike US troops fighting in Iraq, a new study shows.

The syndrome, which proved hard to diagnose because it manifested itself in many different afflictions, remained widespread among US troops 10 years after the Gulf War ended, according to the study, lead-authored by Melvin Blanchard, assistant professor of medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri.

Blanchard's study will be published in January in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

A comprehensive medical evaluation of some 2,189 Gulf War veterans between 1999 and 2001 found that 28.9 percent of those deployed suffered from the affliction a decade after the war.

The rate for soldiers not deployed to the Gulf War was slightly more than half that, and usually not as severe.

The study's results suggest that soldiers fighting in Iraq today -- many of whose tours of duty are much longer than those in the previous war -- are likely to experience Gulf War syndrome as well.

"It's not unique to the Gulf," Blanchard told AFP. "It probably means there is a baseline in the (deployed) population, and the non-deployed reflect what happens in the general population."

"The military is trying to take better care of the soldiers' mental health in the field and that may have some bearing on the outcome, but I still expect to see CMI in those soldiers who are in Iraq now when they return," Blanchard said.

The long-term impacts could be severe, the study said, because those suffering from the syndrome were twice as likely to experience heart attacks, diabetes and liver disease.

Gulf War syndrome is the popular name for chronic multisymptom illness complex, or CMI. It was first identified by the Centers for Disease Control in 1994 after thousands of returning troops complained of numerous unexplained symptoms.

It is defined as having symptoms that fall into two of the three following groupings for more than six months: fatigue, mood and cognitive symptoms and musculoskeletal pain.

Blanchard said that a likely explanation for the illness is that the stress of combat released hormones that caused physiological changes.

Other high-stress situations such as divorce, job pressure or a death in the family could spark the syndrome, he said.

Earlier studies of Gulf War syndrome have examined the possibility of wartime stress, oil well fires and depleted uranium from US munitions, and a drug given to US soldiers to protect against nerve gas as the cause.

Some 100,000 of the 700,000 US soldiers who took part in the campaign to oust Iraq from Kuwait in 1991 have complained of experiencing at least one of the symptoms. British, French and Canadian troops were also affected.

In November, a British tribunal recognized for the first time that a former soldier was suffering from Gulf War Syndrome and should receive an invalid's pension.

Blanchard's study is the most comprehensive study of Gulf War syndrome to date. Comprehensive examinations including medical and psychiatric histories, general physicals, and neurological, pulmonary, nerve conduction, neuropsychological and clinical lab tests were performed on 1,061 deployed and 1,128 non-deployed veterans in the study.

While there was no evidence of an association of the syndrome with kidney, liver or lung disease, thyroid problems, blood abnormalities or neuropathy, the authors found that veterans with the syndrome were two times as likely to have metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome is a group of health risks that increase the likelihood of developing heart attacks, diabetes and liver disease. They include high blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, glucose and weight levels.

The study did show that CMI can dissipate over time in some people. Earlier studies detected the syndrome in about 45 percent of returning Gulf War troops. But by ten years after the war, the level was down to just below 30 percent.

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