Gulf War Syndrome

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Gulf War Syndrome

Gulf War Syndrome (GWS; also known as Persian Gulf Syndrome) is the general term used to describe a cluster of symptoms, disorders, and diseases, whose common factor is that the victims were veterans of the war in the Persian Gulf in 1990–1991.

The veterans and their families (principally from the United States, but also from other coalition forces) have accused the governments involved of subjecting unwitting service personnel to untested chemical weapons or antinerve-gas drugs, and/or covering up what they know about the issue.

Many Gulf War veterans have reported experiencing a variety of physical symptoms and illnesses in the years since the Gulf War. Symptoms reported include nausea, cramps, rashes, short-term memory loss, fatigue, difficulty in breathing, headaches, joint and muscle pain, and birth defects. Ailments have been reported by American, Canadian, Australian, and British veterans alike; in some cases spouses of veterans have reported similar symptoms.

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The mysterious syndrome has sparked debate between veterans’ groups, Senate investigators, and the military over questions of accountability, treatment, and compensation. Hypothesized causes include parasites, biological and chemical warfare agents, prophylactic vaccines and medications given against biological and chemical warfare agents, fumes from oil well fires, and stress.

In 1994 an advisory panel organized by the National Institutes of Health reported that the syndrome represented many illnesses and many causes; they deemed biological and chemical warfare agents unlikely as causes. Causes for the illnesses in many subsets of patients have been identified—for example, some thirty veterans had leishmaniasis, a parasitic disease spread by sand flies—but in many instances the cause has not been identified.

Veterans groups have blamed a variety of causes for these disparate GWS symptoms, including battlefield exposure to toxicants such as chemical weapons, smoke from oil fires and pesticides, and exposure to such chemicals and vaccines as the nerve agent sarin, the drug pyridostigmine bromide, depleted uranium, and anthrax and botulism vaccines.

There is still much debate about whether “Gulf War Syndrome” exists. In 1999 researchers said that brain scans of some sick veterans revealed signs of damage caused by exposure to toxic chemicals, while some medical historians have pointed out that syndromes of undiagnosable diseases have occurred after other wars, including the U.S. Civil War and World Wars I and II.

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