GWU studies symptoms of Gulf War vets

WASHINGTON, October 16, 2000 (GulfLINK) - Researchers at the George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services along with the Department of Veterans Affairs are investigating whether symptoms experienced by Gulf War veterans represent a specific syndrome. So far, no study has demonstrated conclusively the existence of a "Gulf War Syndrome," although the term has been widely used. A syndrome is a group of signs and symptoms which collectively indicate or characterize a disease, disorder, or abnormal condition.

While it is clear that many veterans who served in the Gulf War suffer from a variety of illnesses, including chronic fatigue syndrome and post-traumatic stress disorder, medical science has found no proof of a unique illness associated with the Gulf War. Non-deployed servicemembers have also exhibited symptoms of both of these illnesses, although less frequently.

Paul H. Levine, M.D., clinical professor of epidemiology and biostatistics and clinical professor of medicine at George Washington University in Washington D.C., will lead the study.

The current investigation has been designed to follow up an earlier study, also conducted in collaboration with the VA, which identified a cluster of symptoms found primarily in a group of veterans deployed in the Gulf War. The cluster includes blurred vision, speech difficulty, hand tremor and unsteadiness. Because that study's findings were based solely on questionnaire data, it was determined that the findings could best be investigated by a follow-up study based on physical examinations.

"It is important to realize that this presumed syndrome is based solely on questionnaire data and has not been confirmed by examinations," said Levine. "The purpose of this new grant is to bring in affected and unaffected veterans, both deployed and non-deployed, to confirm objectively whether any consistent health complaints or persistent physical findings can be documented that establish that a unique deployment-related illness actually exists."

According to Levine, physicians from the Medical Center at GWU will examine a total of 90 patients, belonging to four representative groups of veterans from the previous study conducted with the VA. The first group will be deployed veterans who reported the cluster of symptoms found in that earlier study. The second group will be deployed veterans diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. The remaining two groups of veterans will be those who were not deployed but exhibit the cluster of symptoms; and those who did not report experiencing these symptoms.

Levine said these patients, who the researchers recruited from the previously studied group, are predominantly from the east coast. The study, which has been underway since January 24, 2000, is scheduled to continue until February 2002.

By working to continue relevant research into Gulf War illnesses, and having it done by scientists outside the government, the departments of Defense, VA and Health and Human Services are confirming their commitment to both veterans of the Gulf War and veterans of future conflicts.

"Research projects like this can bring hope to afflicted veterans and civilians alike, by adding to our body of information about illnesses that affect many people from different parts of our population," said Michael Kilpatrick, M.D., deputy director of medical outreach and issues for the Office of the Special Assistant's for Gulf War Illnesses in Washington, D.C.