Researchers Narrow Gulf War Syndrome Causes

For 18 years, researchers struggled to pinpoint the causes of Gulf War Syndrome (GWS) and its wide-ranging symptoms. Then, in 2008, a group of Army researchers identified three primary causes: chemical nerve agents, pesticides, and the use of Pyridostigmine Bromide pills.

"There is definitely something different that has happened to service members during the Gulf War," said retired Col. Melissa Forsythe. "Today's soldiers don't exhibit any of the same symptoms. We're talking about the same geographical region. So what happened to these service members in 1990-91 that's not happening now?"

Chemical nerve agents, PB, and many of the pesticides to which Gulf War veterans were exposed belong to a class of chemicals that deactivate a key enzyme essential for breaking down a neurotransmitter chemical that affects numerous bodily functions.

The excess exposure to these chemicals results in increased salivation, nausea, abdominal cramping, diarrhea, excess sweating, increased heart rate, and high blood pressure. At sufficient doses, they can result in death.

Many of these side effects match those of GWS.

Typically, Gulf War veterans exhibit a number of symptoms including chronic headaches, widespread pain in different parts of the body, fatigue, gastrointestinal problems, cognitive difficulties, skin rashes, and respiratory problems.

There is no one test that can give a definitive diagnosis for this illness that affects 25-32 percent of Gulf War veterans. The only way to diagnose the disease is to eliminate all other diseases with similar symptoms.

"At first, service members were told that the illness was all in their heads. So it's very validating for them to see that there are real physical differences between themselves and the Gulf War Veterans that are not ill," said Forsythe.

Currently, the only relief for GWS sufferers is to prescribe treatments for their individual symptoms.

"Research is not necessarily fast, but is our best route in terms of helping people," said Forsythe. “We know that people are out there suffering and they're trying to find their own remedies for symptoms. Our program is focused on improving the diagnosis and treatments for those veterans who are ill."

Source: Researchers Narrow Gulf War Syndrome Causes
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