Is Gulf War syndrome due to stress? The evidence reexamined

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52 Scopus citations


Medical policy-makers have concluded that stress from wartime trauma and deployment constitutes an important cause of the chronic physical symptoms observed in US veterans who served in the Persian Gulf War. The author reviewed scientific articles from peer-reviewed journals referenced in the final report of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans illnesses and conducted a MEDLINE literature search. All reported prevalence rates of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in Gulf War veterans were defined by critical cutpoints on psychometric scales constructed by summing veterans responses on standardized symptom questionnaires rather than by clinical psychiatric interviews. Observed PTSD rates varied from 0% to 36% (mean, 9%). Correcting for measurement errors with previously determined values of the sensitivity [range 0.77 to 0.96) and specificity (range 0.62 to 0.89) of the psychometric tests yielded estimated true PTSD rates of 0% for 18 of the 20 reported rates. Mean scores on the Mississippi PTSD scale in all subgroups of Gulf War veterans were within the range of values for well- adjusted Vietnam veterans (50-89) and far below that of Vietnam veterans with psychiatrically confirmed PTSD (120-140). Most PTSD and 'stress-related symptoms' reported n studies of Gulf War veterans appear to represent false- positive errors of measurement reflecting nonspecific symptoms of other conditions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)695-703
Number of pages9
JournalAmerican Journal of Epidemiology
Issue number9
StatePublished - 1997


  • Combat disorders
  • Meta-analysis
  • Persian Gulf syndrome
  • Psychiatric status rating scales
  • Psychological
  • Sensitivity and specificity
  • Stress
  • Stress disorders post- traumatic
  • Veterans

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology


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