Gulf War illness, or Gulf War Syndrome, has a series of symptoms ranging from headaches to memory loss to chronic fatigue. It plagues one in four veterans of the 1991 Persian Gulf war.
Gulf War Syndrome is due to damage to the autonomic nervous system, according to a new study published online Nov. 26 in the Archives of Neurology.
The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is that part of the peripheral nervous system that largely acts independent of conscious control (involuntarily) and consists of nerves in cardiac muscle, smooth muscle, and exocrine and endocrine glands. It is responsible for maintenance functions (metabolism, cardiovascular activity, temperature regulation, digestion) that have a reputation for being outside of conscious control.
For the study, researchers sent 97 veterans through 25 tests, including brain imaging, in seven days. The group had been drawn from a sample of 8,000 Gulf War veterans. The study’s lead author, Robert Haley, chief of epidemiology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas says, “This is the most important study of all”:
The veterans want to know what’s wrong with them. Now, for the first time, all the doctors in the country can say, ‘Oh, maybe these are autonomic symptoms.’ If you’re not thinking autonomic, the symptoms can sound kind of flaky.
For years Gulf War veterans have been told the symptoms were all in their heads, which Haley and other researchers say isn’t true. There is no known treatment for Gulf War illness, Haley said, but a diagnosis can lead to clinical trials and a possible solution.
Veterans Disability Benefits for Gulf War Illness
Learn more about veterans disability compensation for Gulf War illness and other illness caused during active duty.