Background: UK veterans of the Gulf War report more ill health than servicemen who were not deployed to the Gulf War. We investigated whether the pattern of symptom reporting by veterans of the Gulf War differed from that in active servicemen who had not fought in the Gulf War or who had fought in other conflicts.
Methods: We used a population-based cross-sectional design. We sent a standardised survey that asked about 50 physical symptoms to three UK military cohorts; men who had served in the Gulf War, those who had served in the Bosnia conflict, and men who had been in active service but not deployed to the Gulf War (Era cohort). We used exploratory factor analysis to identify underlying factors and describe the factor structure of the symptoms reported in the Gulf War cohort. Confirmatory factor analysis was used to test the fit of this factor structure in the Bosnia and Era cohorts.
Findings: Three factors in the Gulf War cohort together accounted for about 20% of the common variance. We labelled the factors mood, respiratory system, and peripheral nervous system, according to the symptoms that loaded on to them. In the confirmatory factor analysis, the factor structure identified in the Gulf War cohort fitted reasonably well in the Bosnia and Era cohorts.
Interpretation: Although results from complex modelling procedures need to be interpreted with caution, our findings do not support a unique Gulf War syndrome. The mechanisms behind increased self-reporting of symptoms need further investigation.