Gulf War Syndrome: a review of current knowledge and understanding

J R Nav Med Serv. 2014;100(3):252-8.


The 1991 Persian Gulf War was a resounding military success for coalition forces, who liberated Kuwait following the Iraqi invasion. The medical legacy we have from the conflict is the poorly understood, yet remarkable, phenomenon of Gulf War Syndrome, which surfaced soon after. Epidemiological research has proven beyond doubt that Gulf War veterans report a wide variety of symptoms, in excess of appropriately matched control subjects, and experience worse general health. Numerous toxic environmental hazards have been suggested as causes of Gulf War Syndrome, yet exhaustive scientific study has failed to provide conclusive proof of any link. No novel or recognised disease has been found to account for the symptomatic burden of veterans, and the optimal treatment remains uncertain. This understanding can be added to from an anthropological perspective, where the narratives of those afflicted provide further insight. The nature of military life was changing at the time of the Gulf War, challenging the identity and beliefs of some veterans and causing socio-cultural distress. The symptomatic presentation of Gulf War Syndrome can be considered an articulation of this disharmony. Gulf War Syndrome can also be considered within the group of post-combat disorders such as shellshock, the like of which have occurred after major wars in the last century. With the current withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Defence Medical Services (DMS) should heed the lessons of history.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Persian Gulf Syndrome / diagnosis*
  • Persian Gulf Syndrome / etiology*
  • United Kingdom
  • Veterans*