Gulf War veterans' illnesses: a case study in causal inference

Environ Res. 1998 Nov;79(2):71-81. doi: 10.1006/enrs.1998.3873.


The objective of this study was to determine from the published epidemiological literature whether there is evidence for a causal association between service in the Gulf War and illness in U.S. veterans. Eleven published studies were analyzed using standardized epidemiologic criteria for assessing causality. A consistent association was found between deployment to the Gulf and self-reports of symptoms. No consistency was seen in physical findings or laboratory results. Strength of association varied with different study designs. Dose-response information is limited, because of lack of quantitative data on exposures. Biological plausibility varies for different risk factors. Specificity of association is not seen. Frequency of self-reported symptoms is increased in U.S. Gulf War veterans compared to other veterans of the same era, but specific causes of illnesses cannot be ascertained. Major gaps in data that impeded this analysis include (1) lack of objective data on specific environmental exposures (2) lack of baseline health assessments, and (3) lack of objective measures of post-deployment health status. In future deployment of U.S. troops, accurate exposure and health data will be needed if the causes of subsequent illnesses are to be accurately assessed.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Environmental Exposure
  • Female
  • Health Status Indicators
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Military Personnel
  • Multiple Chemical Sensitivity / epidemiology
  • Persian Gulf Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Persian Gulf Syndrome / etiology*
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Veterans