Objective: To describe the demographic characteristics and postwar health status of U.S. Gulf War veterans who participated in the Department of Veterans Affairs health examination registry program.
Design: Case records of 52,835 veterans who participated in a standardized health examination program were reviewed.
Setting: Participants volunteered for physical examinations at a Department of Veterans Affairs medical treatment facility from August 1992 to September 1996.
Subjects: U.S. Gulf War veterans deployed to southwest Asia between August 1990 and 1996.
Main outcome measure: Demographic, military, symptom, and International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification, diagnostic categories.
Results: A wide variety of symptoms and diagnoses were reported without apparent internal variation by military characteristics (branch and service component). The frequency of symptoms (fatigue, skin rash, headache, muscle and joint pain, and memory loss) reported increased over time, whereas the proportion of individuals with physician-diagnosed illnesses remained fairly constant. No single category of disease increased or decreased substantially over time.
Conclusions: Veterans have experienced a wide variety of health problems since their Gulf War service. These problems, in aggregate, are different from what has been seen in other armed conflicts. The Department of Veterans Affairs registry is a very large case series and has failed to identify a single, unique syndrome or new illness after Gulf War service. An epidemiologic study would better define the prevalence of specific symptoms and medical conditions among Gulf War veterans and to what extent any of the conditions identified are associated with Gulf War military service. The knowledge provided by such studies would be important to development of preventive measures and future deployment medical surveillance planning.