Researchers at Georgetown University, led by Dr. Rakib U. Rayhan, have discovered, through brain scans, the loss of brain matter in two regions of the brain of Gulf War veterans.
As background information, the authors informed that, of the approximately 700,000 soldiers who served in Operation Desert Storm (1990-91), nearly 30 percent developed Gulf War illness, or Gulf War Syndrome. This illness presents itself with symptoms such as cognitive deficits, autonomic dysfunction, severe fatigue and chronic widespread pain that implicate the central nervous system.
The researchers and scientists in this study set out to determine what the casual relationship might be between exercise, the brain and alterations in symptoms. They recruited 38 volunteers, 28 Gulf War veterans and 10 controls - 10 matched people who were not veterans. The participants underwent two exercise stress tests as well as two MRI scans, one before and one after the tests. The aim was to see whether there were any serial changes in pain.
The scientists found that Gulf War illness appears to have two different forms, depending on which brain regions have deteriorated. Their findings explain why doctors have consistently found that not all Gulf War veterans have the same symptoms and complaints. After undergoing the physical exercise test, it became evident that there were subgroups with different symptoms among the veterans. In 18 of the veterans, pain levels rose after completing the exercise stress test.
The MRI scans revealed loss of brain matter in regions next to those areas associated with the regulation of pain.
In those veterans who had to do cognitive tasks - thinking, memory, judgement, intelligence - the scans showed that the basal ganglia part of the brain was used more, possibly a compensatory strategy used by the brain that is commonly found among Alzheimer's Disease patients as well as those with other degenerative disorders. Just because these veterans had similar symptoms and atrophies to patients with degenerative disorders did not mean they will progress to Alzheimer's or some other disorder.
Gulf War Syndrome is a long term multi-symptom disorder that affects approximately one third of military personnel and civilian workers who were sent to the first Gulf War. Several symptoms are diarrhea, skin rashes, cognitive problems, physical pain and fatigue. A particular cause has not been defined, however, suggestions by health-care professionals and military personnel indicate that one or a combination of events may contribute to this illness. Smoke from burning wells, depleted uranium, Sarin gas, vaccinations, combat stress, antitoxin for nerve agents and pesticides are listed possibilities.
Check with a local VA Regional Center or a veterans service officer for more detailed information and answers to questions regarding this subject.