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

the gray-matter regions in Gulf War vets. Damage to both white- and gray-matter regions could be involved in Gulf War illness, Haley said, adding that the current study helps make the case that the physiological damage is not limited to the gray matter.

The changes in white matter seen in the current study, however, have to be shown in other groups of vets in other studies, Haley said. A downside of the current study is that all of the vets with Gulf War illness also met the criteria for having chronic fatigue syndrome and half of them qualified as having fibromyalgia, a chronic widespread pain disorder. So it is possible that the changes in white matter noted in this study were related to these conditions and not Gulf War illness.

But teasing apart the brain changes associated with these conditions could be challenging, Rayhan said, because of the overlap in their symptoms. For example, if you meet the criteria for chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia and you were in the military in 1990 or '91, your doctor could decide that you have Gulf War illness, he said.

To diagnose Gulf War illness, doctors generally look for at least moderately severe symptoms in the following areas: fatigue; pain; mood and cognition; and gastrointestinal, respiratory and skin problems.

If the differences reported in this study can be supported by other studies, it could open doors for diagnostic testing based on this type of MRI, Haley said. It is a simple, fast test that does not involve radiation, he said.

Such a test would help vets get out of the "your word against theirs" challenge in getting services from VA systems, which includes not only medical treatment, but also benefits for their families, Haley said. Veterans of the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan also are in need of a diagnostic test for mild traumatic brain injury in cases where they cannot prove the injury based on having endured an explosion or lost consciousness, he added.

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