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Study: Post-Combat Syndrome Not Unique to Gulf War

Fri Feb 8, 6:42 AM ET

LONDON (Reuters) - Gulf War Syndrome, the mysterious illness blamed for a range of medical symptoms, may not be unique to the 1991 conflict in Kuwait, researchers said on Friday.

Veterans from the Boer War through to World War Two have suffered post-combat symptoms which researchers from Guy's, King's and St. Thomas' School of Medicine in London believe are a pattern of responses to the physical and psychological stress of war.

"All modern wars have been associated with a syndrome characterized by unexplained medical symptoms," Edgar Jones and his colleagues said in a report in The British Medical Journal.

They examined the records of 1,856 British veterans from war pension files dating from 1872 up to the Gulf War to determine if there were similarities in the medical and psychological problems they reported.

In the study funded by the U.S. military, they concluded that there is no single disorder common to all modern wars but different sorts of syndromes depending on changes in types of warfare.

The terms and explanations used by doctors and servicemen to describe symptoms seem to be influenced by advances in medical sciences, according to the researchers.

"Post-combat syndromes have arisen after all major wars over the past century and we can predict that they will continue to appear after future conflicts," said Jones.

"What cannot be accurately forecast is their form, as they are molded by the changing nature of health fears and warfare," he added.

Gulf War veterans slammed the report, saying it was an attempt to gloss over the problems that they are facing.

"This paper is pure psychobabble and not relevant to the illnesses that 540 British veterans from the Gulf War have died from," the National Gulf Veterans and Families Association said in a statement. Gulf War Syndrome and its possible causes has been a hotly debated topic. It includes a variety of symptoms such as respiratory and digestive problems, nerve damage, pain, numbness, tiredness and psychological difficulties.

It has been linked variously to the inoculations the veterans received, pesticides they handled, smoke from oil-burning fires, stress and organophosphates -- chemicals that have been shown to affect the human nervous system.

Last month the U.S. government announced that a 12-member advisory committee within the Department of Veterans Affairs would review research into Gulf War Syndrome to pull together existing knowledge.

It will also make recommendations about what more needs to be done.

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