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2022 Feb 27

Brain Sci



Association of Gulf War Illness-Related Symptoms with Military Exposures among 1990-1991 Gulf War Veterans Evaluated at the War-Related Illness and Injury Study Center (WRIISC).


Ahmed ST, Steele L, Richardson P, Nadkarni S, Bandi S, Rowneki M, Sims KJ, Vahey J, Gifford EJ, Boyle SH, Nguyen TH, Nono Djotsa A, White DL, Hauser ER, Chandler H, Yamal J-M, Helmer DA
Brain Sci. 2022 Feb 27; 12(3).
PMID: 35326276.


Veterans with difficult-to-diagnose conditions who receive care in the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) healthcare system can be referred for evaluation at one of three specialty VA War-Related Illness and Injury Study Centers (WRIISC). Veterans of the 1990-1991 Gulf War have long experienced excess rates of chronic symptoms associated with the condition known as Gulf War Illness (GWI), with hundreds evaluated at the WRIISC. Here we provide the first report from a cohort of 608 Gulf War Veterans seen at the WRIISC who completed questionnaires on chronic symptoms (>6 months) consistent with GWI as well as prominent exposures during Gulf War deployment. These included veterans' reports of hearing chemical alarms/donning Military-Ordered Protective Posture Level 4 (MOPP4) gear, pesticide use, and use of pyridostigmine bromide (PB) pills as prophylaxis against the effects of nerve agents. Overall, veterans in the cohort were highly symptomatic and reported a high degree of exposures. In multivariable models, these exposures were significantly associated with moderate-to-severe chronic symptoms in neurocognitive/mood, fatigue/sleep, and pain domains. Specifically, exposure to pesticides was associated with problems with concentration and memory, problems sleeping, unrefreshing sleep, and joint pain. Use of MOPP4 was associated with light sensitivity and unrefreshing sleep and use of PB was associated with depression. We also evaluated the association of exposures with symptom summary scores based on veterans' severity of symptoms in four domains and overall. In multivariable modeling, the pain symptom severity score was significantly associated with pesticide use (Odds ratio (OR): 4.13, 95% confidence intervals (CI): 1.78-9.57) and taking PB pills (OR: 2.28, 95% CI: 1.02-5.09), and overall symptom severity was significantly associated with use of PB pills (OR: 2.41, 95% CI: 1.01-5.75). Conclusion: Decades after deployment, Gulf War veterans referred to a VA tertiary evaluation center report a high burden of chronic symptoms, many of which were associated with reported neurotoxicant exposures during the war.