What do people mean when they refer to "Gulf War Syndrome" and what are the causes?

"Gulf War Syndrome" is a non-scientific label that has frequently been used to describe those veterans with unexplained illnesses often characterized by fatigue, joint pain, skin rash, memory loss and/or diarrhea. Five panels of experts agree that this group of veterans is probably not suffering from a single, common ailment, but rather from a variety of illnesses with overlapping symptoms.


A number of potential causes have been postulated and investigated, but to date no single theory appears likely to explain all of these undiagnosed conditions. Among some of the more common theories are: exposure to low levels of chemical agents; an unusual chronic infectious disease; exposure to biologic warfare agents; side effects of vaccines or medications administered to Gulf War participants; or some combination of these factors.


In tens of thousands of protocol medical examinations of Persian Gulf veterans to date, neither VA nor DoD medical authorities have found evidence of infectious diseases beyond the range of illnesses common in the population at large. Research studies now in progress will provide more scientific answers to this question, but no rigorous, reproducible research to date has established that Gulf War veterans' illnesses are caused by an infectious agent.


VA is concerned about media reports on hypotheses that previously unidentified organisms could be responsible for disease transmission. Absent credible scientific evidence, this grave disservice to Persian Gulf veterans and their families could cause unwarranted discrimination in the workplace, schools or community. When plausible hypotheses are put forward, federal investigators examine them and encourage careful private research as well.