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Brain Changes Could Contribute to Gulf War Illness: Study
Date:3/21/2013

By Carina Storrs
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, March 21 (HealthDay News) -- Many of the soldiers who served in the first Gulf War suffer a poorly understood collection of symptoms known as Gulf War illness, and now a small study has identified brain changes in these vets that may give hints for developing a test for diagnosing the condition.

Around 25 percent of the nearly 700,000 U.S. troops that were deployed to countries including Iraq, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia began experiencing a range of physical and mental health problems during or shortly after their tour that persist to this day. Common symptoms are widespread pain; fatigue; mood and memory disruptions; and gastrointestinal, respiratory and skin problems.

New research suggests that structural changes in the white matter of the brains of these vets could be at least partly to blame for their symptoms. White matter is made up of a network of nerve fibers or axons, which are the long projections on nerve cells that connect and transmit signals between the gray matter regions that carry out the brain's many functions.

Denise Nichols was a nurse in the U.S. Air Force and worked with an aeromedical evacuation team for six months during the war. While still in theater, she developed bumps on her arms and had alternating constipation and diarrhea. Shortly after returning in 1991, her eyesight worsened and she developed intense muscle fatigue and memory problems that made it hard for her to help her daughter with her math homework.

"I'm not working anymore because of it; I just could not do it," said Nichols, now 62. In addition to working as a military and civilian nurse, Nichols used to teach nursing and has helped conduct research on Gulf War illness and participated in studies including the current one. "There's people much worse who have cancers and heart problems, and pulmonary embolism has now started surfacing," she said.

"It's frustrating beca
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