Gulf War illness in the Gulf War Era Cohort and Biorepository: The Kansas and Centers for Disease Control definitions

Life Sci. 2021 Aug 1;278:119454. doi: 10.1016/j.lfs.2021.119454. Epub 2021 Mar 31.


Aims: This study characterizes Gulf War Illness (GWI) among U.S. veterans who participated in the Gulf War Era Cohort and Biorepository (GWECB).

Main methods: Mailed questionnaires were collected between 2014 and 2016. Self-reported GWI symptoms, symptom domain criteria, exclusionary diagnoses, and case status were examined based on the originally published Kansas and Centers for Disease Control (CDC) definitions in the GWECB cohort (n = 849 deployed to Gulf and n = 267 non-deployed). Associations among GWI and deployment status, demographic, and military service characteristics were examined using logistic regression.

Key findings: Among deployed veterans in our sample, 39.9% met the Kansas criteria and 84.2% met the CDC criteria for GWI. Relative to non-deployed veterans, deployed veterans had a higher odds of meeting four GWI case status-related measures including the Kansas symptom criteria (aOR = 2.05, 95% CI = 1.50, 2.80), Kansas GWI case status (aOR = 1.42, 95% CI = 1.05, 1.93), the CDC GWI case status (aOR = 1.57, 95% CI = 1.07, 2.29) and the CDC severe criteria (aOR = 2.67, 95% CI = 1.79, 3.99). Forty percent met the Kansas exclusionary criteria, with no difference by deployment status. Some symptoms were nearly universally endorsed.

Significance: This analysis provides evidence of a sustained, multisymptom illness in veterans who deployed to the Persian Gulf War compared to non-deployed Gulf War era veterans nearly 25 years later. Differences in symptoms attributed to GWI by deployment status have diminished since initial reports, suggesting the need to update GWI definitions to account for aging-related conditions and symptoms. This study provides a foundation for future efforts to establish a single GWI case definition and analyses that employ the biorepository.

Keywords: Chronic multisymptom illness; Long-term follow-up; Post-deployment health; Veteran.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S.
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Gulf War
  • Humans
  • Kansas
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Military Personnel
  • Persian Gulf Syndrome / classification*
  • Persian Gulf Syndrome / diagnosis*
  • Persian Gulf Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Symptom Assessment
  • United States
  • Veterans / statistics & numerical data*