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New Reports of Gulf War Illnesses Persisting for 25 Years in Female Veterans

Friday, June 12, 2020

It has been approximately 29 years since the Gulf War concluded in February of 1991. The Journal of Women’s Health recently published a study noting the impact this has had on female veterans. According to the study, female combat veterans who were deployed during the conflict have nearly double the risk of reporting more than twenty symptoms when compared to female veterans that were not deployed.

Returning troops from the Gulf War displayed a range of symptoms from headaches and fatigue to musculoskeletal pain and skin ailments according to Dr. Steven S Coughlin, interim chief of the Division of Epidemiology in the Medical College of Georgia Department of Population Health Sciences.

According to Coughlin, the persistence of these health outcomes over the years suggests that there is a difference in how Gulf War illnesses manifest themselves in female and male veterans. It is important that gender is taken into account.

The newly reported findings indicate that many of the symptoms being reported now were reported twenty years ago. However, the study has shown an increased frequency of symptoms over time in women. Furthermore, the rates and number of symptoms is larger than what would be expected with normal aging.

Neurotoxin exposure is cited as a major cause in the health issues we have seen from the gulf war, specifically regarding those veterans that were on the frontlines. To protect military personnel from biting flies and pests in that part of the world, military personnel’s uniforms were infused with pesticides. In addition, soldiers were asked to take pyridostigmine bromide, a drug given to improve muscle strength to protect against harmful nerve agents in the field. “Every time the alarms went off, they would have to take these little white pills,” said Coughlin.

The drug itself has been found to be mildly toxic to nerves and some evidence has shown that a combination of the drugs and insecticides used leads to a more potent impact. Military personnel were also exposed to environmental toxins such as blown up munitions factories and low dose sarin gas.

The study looks at a total of 301 female Gulf War veterans, 203 of which, were deployed. The results show that about a third of the deployed veterans report having a cough when they do not have a cold. Many of their symptoms can be classified as Gulf War illness, which means they have at least three of the following categories: fatigue, neurological/cognitive/mood problems, pain, respiratory, gastrointestinal and skin problems.

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