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Mysterious Condition Plagues Gulf War Vets

Study finds symptoms include fatigue, difficulty thinking, muscle or joint pain

FRIDAY, Dec. 30, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- Veterans who served in the Persian Gulf War have nearly twice the prevalence of a chronic multi-symptom illness than soldiers who served elsewhere at the same time, a new study shows.

The condition, chronic multi-symptom illness (CMI), is similar to what is often called Gulf War Syndrome. Diagnosis requires at least two symptoms including fatigue, "mood symptoms" or difficulty thinking, and muscle or joint pain, for six months.

It appears that the risk of CMI is greater in those who had depression and anxiety disorders before military service, Dr. Melvin Blanchard, associate chief of medicine at the St. Louis Veterans Affairs Medical Center and an assistant professor of medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, said in a prepared statement.

"We're still not sure whether CMI is due to a single disease or pathological process," he said.

The study, which appears online in the Journal of Epidemiology, is part of a continuing analysis of data in a VA study called the National Health Survey of Gulf War Era Veterans and Their Families, conducted from 1999 to 2001.

The researchers also found that CMI doubles the risk of metabolic syndrome, which includes increased risk of coronary heart disease, diabetes and cirrhosis of the liver.

CMI continues to be much more prevalent in those who served in the war, although some of those veterans appeared to get better over the 10 years since. A study conducted soon after the war in 1995 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that nearly 45 percent of the war veterans were diagnosed with the disorder. The new study shows that number now to be 28.9 percent. However, the percentage of other soldiers with the disorder has held steady at about 15 percent.

"Physicians need to be aware of the potential manifestations of CMI and the need to treat them, and metabolic syndrome is a key example," Blanchard said. "There's quite a bit of literature on this condition, and there are steps physicians can encourage their patients to take, such as increased exercise, stress management and dieting to reduce abdominal fat, that can lessen its effects."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about Gulf War Syndrome.

SOURCE: Washington University School of Medicine, news release, Dec. 27, 2005
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