What is Gulf War Syndrome?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 21 October 2019
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Gulf War Syndrome is a medical condition of unknown causes characterized by statistically improbable similar symptoms which appear primarily in veterans of the First Gulf War, and sometimes their families as well. Numerous theories for the causes of Gulf War Syndrome have been posited, and the condition has been extensively studied by the United States Government as well as other nations. The syndrome is also a topic of controversy, since some authorities believe that it does not actually exist. Actively deployed American and British soldiers appear to suffer most extensively from Gulf War Syndrome, although other allied troops have reported symptoms as well.

The symptoms of Gulf War Syndrome are myriad, and they do not always appear together. Veterans have reported fatigue, joint pain, nausea, headaches, unexplained skin rashes, respiratory disorders, sexual dysfunction, dizziness, and nervous system syndromes. Several specific conditions including brain cancer, fibromyalgia, and Lou Gehrig's disease have also been linked specifically with service in the Gulf War. The wide range of symptoms makes Gulf War Syndrome very difficult to classify and diagnose accurately.


Post traumatic stress also often accompanies Gulf War Syndrome, and some authorities have argued that the syndrome is stress induced. It may also be linked with exposure to pesticides, burning oil, prophylactic drugs, vaccines, depleted uranium, and chemical exposure. All of these substances were demonstrably present during the Gulf War. The United States and Britain both used prophylactic drugs and pesticides extensively during the conflict, explaining why the syndrome has a higher incidence among soldiers from these nations. Other theorists suggest that the syndrome may be related to bacteria, illnesses endemic to the Middle East, or chemical and biological weapons stockpiled in Iraq.

The United States alone deployed 697,000 men and women to the Middle East during the First Gulf War. As many as one in 10 of these individuals had reported symptoms by the mid 1990s. Some of the symptoms have also expanded to the families of these soldiers, many of whom brought back mementos from Iraq which may have been contaminated, in addition to their soiled gear.

The controversy over the cause of Gulf War Syndrome has led to public debate in the United States and in other nations as well. Some veterans feel that they have been mistreated by the Veteran's Administration, which often denies benefits to soldiers, arguing that the cause of their symptoms may not have been their service. Among the civilian community, Gulf War Syndrome has also fallen under scrutiny, especially after features by major magazines such as Time on the issue. Veterans of the 2003 Iraq war began reporting similar symptoms as well, bringing renewed scrutiny to Gulf War Syndrome, along with an attempt to pin down the cause and possible treatments.


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Post 3

The Gulf War is like any other war in that the veterans are not going to return home without scars. This has been going on forever. If you think of the tragedy of war only in terms of the number of people who die then you are missing half of the picture.

I think it is impossible to fight in a war and not have it change you in some way, and many of these ways are not good. Gulf War Syndrome is just another of the long list of ailments troops have been dealing with since the first war. Some of the ailments are physical, some are mental and some are emotional, but they are all real.

Post 2

The article talks about how some people believe there could be a connection between the stress the soldiers and marines went through during the way and the symptoms they have experienced since then. But the article also says that family members of the soldiers have experienced the symptoms.

Doesn't this rule out the likelihood of the symptoms being related to post traumatic stress? The military just needs to step up and say we have a problem and we are going to fix it.

Post 1

I don't understand how anyone can look at the figures in this article and still say that Gulf War Syndrome doesn't exist. Otherwise, how can you explain so many troops suffering from the same symptoms? This article says that almost 70 thousand U.S. troops complained of having the symptoms. Then you add the troops from other countries and the number is scary and impossible for any reasonable person to ignore or deny.

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