Gulf War Veterans “Aging” Faster
Updated: Apr 29
Hello fellow Veterans! I hope all is well. Spring is here, and it’s time to get outside and get that much-needed exercise to keep us healthy. On the subject of staying fit, I found a fascinating article on Gulf War Illness (GWI) that may interest many of you. Check it out!
Gulf War Illness (GWI) is a complex set of symptoms that can affect people who served in the 1990-91 Gulf War. Symptoms include fatigue, muscle pain and weakness, sleep problems, headaches, joint pain and memory problems. It's not clear what causes GWI or how many people have it but estimates range from 100,000 to 300,000 veterans who served during Operation Desert Shield/Storm (ODS).
Gulf War Illness has been linked to exposure to nerve agents such as sarin gas; pesticides used in protectant kits given out by U.S. military personnel; pyridostigmine bromide (PB) pills taken by some troops against nerve agent attack; depleted uranium used in armor-piercing munitions fired at enemy tanks during ODS; oil well fires set by retreating Iraqi forces in Kuwaiti desert during ODS; smoke from burning oil wells following ODS; chemical weapons left over from previous wars including World War I & II plus Vietnam War era herbicides like Agent Orange which were used extensively throughout Southeast Asia during those conflicts
The diagnosis process for Gulf War Illness is complex, and the symptoms can vary in severity. If you suspect that you have GWS, it's important to consult with your doctor about how they will determine whether or not this is the case. Your doctor may perform a physical exam, ask questions about your medical history and lifestyle choices (such as smoking or drinking), order blood tests and imaging scans such as X-rays or CT scans if necessary--or all of these things together!
Decades later, according to a recent study, the exposure to these chemicals may be causing higher rates and the early onset of chronic medical conditions discovered in Gulf War veterans compared to their non-veteran peers.
The study found that Gulf War veterans reported symptoms of high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke, heart attack, arthritis, chronic bronchitis, and other chronic conditions at rates generally associated with people about a decade older than them. Veterans who reported exposure to chemical warfare agents and taking PB pills had exceptionally higher heart attack rates and diabetes.
Gulf War veterans are displaying accelerated aging patterns resulting from more and earlier chronic medical conditions than the general population of civilians. A precedent has been discovered in veterans from other wars experiencing this toxicant-induced disorder. An example can be seen with many Vietnam veterans who developed chronic conditions of high blood pressure, diabetes, and many types of cancers related to Agent Orange exposure.
Researchers also compared the prevalence of nine chronic medical conditions in two different samples: 448 members from Ft. Devens and 2,949 non-Gulf War veteran participants matching the demographics of the veterans. They discovered that male Gulf War veterans were more likely to report symptoms of heart attack, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, arthritis, and chronic bronchitis than their non-veteran peers. Female veterans were less likely to report high blood pressure when compared to their non-veteran female peers but almost twenty percent more likely to report diabetes.
Veterans who reported exposure to war-related chemical weapons were three times more likely to report having diabetes than veterans who were not exposed. Veterans who reported taking the PB anti-nerve agent pills during their deployment were twelve times more likely to report a heart attack than those who had not taken these pills and were also more likely to have diabetes. This is the first study conducted to bring awareness to Gulf War veterans reporting these toxicant exposures related to the increased prevalence of these chronic conditions.
Researchers also compared Gulf War veterans in their 40s, 50s, and 60s with their non-veteran counterparts. They found that veterans in their 40s were 27 times more likely to report having heart attacks, veterans in their 50s had significantly higher rates of arthritis and chronic bronchitis, and veterans in their 60s were five times more likely to report experiencing a stroke than non-veterans in the same age groups. These veterans, in every age group, said that many of these conditions at rates similar, or even higher, than non-veterans that were a decade older than them.
These results indicated that the toxic wounds from GW exposures appear to be associated with more than just the chronic health symptoms of GWI but also chronic aging conditions.
Fascinating stuff! This knowledge helps you understand some of the things that Veterans are experiencing. Maybe it doesn’t affect you, but perhaps it does. Either way, we must arm ourselves with informative knowledge to help us, or other Veterans, through their challenges. Overall, please remain aware of your health and see your medical professionals if you are experiencing any life-threatening issues. So that is it for this month. Be safe, and I will see you soon. Take care.
Samuels, M. (March 2019). Gulf War Veterans “Aging” Faster. Boston University: School of Public Health. Retrieved from https://www.bu.edu/sph/news/articles/2019/gulf-war-veterans-aging-faster/
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