Background: Since the Persian Gulf War ended in 1991, many veterans of that conflict have reported diverse, unexplained symptoms. To evaluate the health of Gulf War veterans, we studied their postwar hospitalization experience and compared it with that of other military personnel serving at the same time who did not go to the Persian Gulf.
Methods: Using a retrospective cohort approach and data from Department of Defense hospitals, we studied hospitalizations of 547,076 veterans of the Gulf War who were serving in the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force and 618,335 other veterans from the same era who did not serve in the Persian Gulf. Using multivariate logistic-regression models, we analyzed risk factors for hospitalization both overall and in 14 broad diagnostic categories during three periods from August 1991 through September 1993 (a total of 45 specific comparisons).
Results: After the war, the overall odds ratio for hospitalization of the Gulf War veterans was not higher than that of the other veterans, even after adjustment for selection effects related to deployment. In 16 of the 42 comparisons involving specific diagnoses, the risk of hospitalization among Gulf War veterans differed significantly from that among other veterans. Among these 16 comparisons, Gulf War veterans were at higher risk in 5: neoplasms (largely benign) during 1991, diseases of the genitourinary system during 1991, diseases of the blood and blood-forming organs (mostly forms of anemia) during 1992, and mental disorders during both 1992 and 1993. The differences were not consistent over time and could be accounted for by deferred care, postwar pregnancies, and postwar stress.
Conclusions: During the two years after the Persian Gulf War, there was no excess of unexplained hospitalization among Americans who remained on active duty after serving in that conflict.