Background. Gulf War veterans have a number of health complaints. We therefore decided to carry out a systematic review to identify and summarize the findings from studies that have assessed multi-symptom conditions in Gulf War veterans and in an unexposed comparison group.
Method. Studies published between January 1990 and May 2004 were identified by searching a large number of electronic databases. Reference lists and websites were also searched and key researchers were contacted. Studies were included if they compared the prevalence of chronic fatigue syndrome, multiple chemical sensitivity, CDC-defined chronic multi-symptom illness, fibromyalgia, or symptoms of either fatigue or numbness and tingling in Gulf War veterans and non-Gulf veterans. A total of 2401 abstracts were independently reviewed by two authors.
Results. Twenty-three publications fulfilled the inclusion criteria. Gulf deployment was most strongly associated with chronic fatigue syndrome (OR 3·8, 95% CI 2·2–6·7). Gulf War veterans were also approximately three and a half times more likely than non-Gulf veterans to report multiple chemical sensitivity or chronic multi-symptom illness as defined by CDC. The methodological quality of the studies varied but the later and larger studies were of a high methodological standard with robust sampling strategies, adequate response rates and good adjustment for confounders.
Conclusions. The results support the hypothesis that deployment to the Gulf War is associated with greater reporting of multi-symptom conditions.