BMJ open 2018 02 138(2) e016086 doi 10.1136/bmjopen-2017-016086
Across diverse groups of Gulf War (GW) veterans, reports of musculoskeletal pain, cognitive dysfunction, unexplained fatigue, chronic diarrhoea, rashes and respiratory problems are common. GW illness is a condition resulting from GW service in veterans who report a combination of these symptoms. This study integrated the GW literature using meta-analytical methods to characterise the most frequently reported symptoms occurring among veterans who deployed to the 1990-1991 GW and to better understand the magnitude of ill health among GW-deployed veterans compared with non-deployed GW-era veterans.
Literature databases were searched for peer-reviewed studies published from January 1990 to May 2017 reporting health symptom frequencies in GW-deployed veterans and GW-era control veterans. Self-reported health symptom data were extracted from 21 published studies. A binomial-normal meta-analytical model was used to determine pooled prevalence of individual symptoms in GW-deployed veterans and GW-era control veterans and to calculate combined ORs of health symptoms comparing GW-deployed veterans and GW-era control veterans.
GW-deployed veterans had higher odds of reporting all 56 analysed symptoms compared with GW-era controls. Odds of reporting irritability (OR 3.21, 95% CI 2.28 to 4.52), feeling detached (OR 3.59, 95% CI 1.83 to 7.03), muscle weakness (OR 3.19, 95% CI 2.73 to 3.74), diarrhoea (OR 3.24, 95% CI 2.51 to 4.17) and rash (OR 3.18, 95% CI 2.47 to 4.09) were more than three times higher among GW-deployed veterans compared with GW-era controls.
The higher odds of reporting mood-cognition, fatigue, musculoskeletal, gastrointestinal and dermatological symptoms among GW-deployed veterans compared with GW-era controls indicates these symptoms are important when assessing GW veteran health status.