Article Index

Gulf War Illness

Rakib Rayhan (Georgetown, USA) gave an overview of Gulf War Illness (GWI), which is closely related to ME/CFS. The first Gulf War was in 1990-91. There followed an excess prevalence of veterans with generalised symptoms and also recognised medical conditions. By 1991 there were many with ongoing illnesses with no firm explanation and these people were initially labelled as psychosomatic or malingerers.

However it was established eventually that oil fires, smoke, incomplete combustion and fire particulate materials maybe responsible. A task force was established in 1997 to look into GWI. Sarin (an anti-cholinesterase inhibitor) and pyridostigmine use was investigated. Many other possible causes of a complex nature were investigated, such as involvement of pesticides and other chemicals.

Objective measures on patients included exercise induced effects on cognitive function using functional MRI (fMRI) on 2 consecutive days. Diffusion tensor imaging and voxel-based technology was used. The data presented is the first direct evidence that 1) there is white matter damage associated with the complaints of pain and fatigue, 2) there was elucidation of two phenotypes in response to exercise stressors, 3) neurological evidence of compensatory cognitive function, 4) cortical, cerebellar and brainstem damage associated with exercise induced phenotypes, and 5) cognitive alterations associated with abnormal energetics of lactate metabolism in the prefrontal cortex, possibly linked to neuronal mitochondrial dysfunction. The orthostatic heart rate was elevated in some patients and in these, tenderness in FM points increased after exercise. There were changes in brain blood flow particularly after exercise. The conclusion was that chemical exposure may have damaged the CNS, and the study emphasised the importance of measures such as fMRI being taken before and after exercise.