Prevalence and Patterns of Symptoms Among Female Veterans of the 1991 Gulf War Era: 25 Years Later

J Womens Health (Larchmt). 2020 Jun;29(6):819-826. doi: 10.1089/jwh.2019.7705. Epub 2020 Apr 3.


Background: A new national cohort of Gulf War (GW) veterans of 1,318 participants was created from the Veterans Affairs Cooperative Studies Program 585 Gulf War Era Cohort and Biorepository (GWECB) pilot study. However, female veteran health outcomes have not been reported separately for those deployed versus nondeployed to the 1990-1991 GW. Methods: Using data from the cooperative studies program (CSP) #585 GWECB, this study examined whether excess prevalence and patterns of Gulf War Illness (GWI) symptoms were present among female veterans who served during the GW compared with female veterans who did not deploy to the GW (GW-Era). Results: A total of 301 women veterans participated in the survey (203 GW, 98 GW-era). Mean ages in 2016 were 53 years among GW women veterans and 54 years among GW-era women. Participant groups did not differ by age, race, ethnicity, or education, but GW women were more likely to have served in the army or navy and less likely to have served in the air force. Compared with GW-era women, GW-deployed women were significantly more likely to report 7 out of 34 symptoms related to cognitive, neurological, and mood problems and respiratory complaints when controlling for age, race, GW deployment, branch of service, and smoking status in logistic regression analyses. Ordered logistic regression was also used to estimate the association between the total number of self-reported symptoms and deployment status, age, race, branch of service, and smoking status. Results showed deployed GW veterans to have a nearly twofold risk of reporting more symptoms than GW-era women, with younger, nonwhite, army-enlisted GW women significantly more likely to report more total symptoms. Discussion: Twenty-five years after the war, GWECB women GW veterans continued to report a wide variety of symptoms at a significantly higher excess frequency prevalence than GW-era women. Our results showed at least a 14% excess frequency prevalence in all seven significantly different symptoms encompassing two out of the six Kansas GWI criteria, including neurological/mood/cognition, and respiratory domains. These results suggest that further study of these symptom domains is warranted in GW women veterans.

Keywords: Gulf War Illness; Gulf War veterans; symptoms; veterans; women.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Gulf War*
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Middle Aged
  • Military Personnel / statistics & numerical data
  • Persian Gulf Syndrome / epidemiology*
  • Prevalence
  • Self Report
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Veterans / statistics & numerical data*