Is there a Gulf War syndrome? Searching for syndromes by factor analysis of symptoms

Robert W. Haley, Thomas L. Kurt, Jim Hom

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Abstract

Objective. - To search for syndromes in Persian Gulf War veterans. Participants. - Two hundred forty-nine (41%) of the 606 Gulf War veterans of the Twenty-fourth Reserve Naval Mobile Construction Battalion living in 5 southeastern states participated; 145 (58%) had retired from service, and the rest were still serving in the battalion. Design. - Participants completed a standardized survey booklet measuring the anatomical distributions or characteristics of each symptom, a booklet measuring wartime exposures, and a standard psychological personality assessment inventory. Two-stage factor analysis was used to disentangle ambiguous symptoms and identity syndromes. Main Outcome Measures. - Factor analysis-derived syndromes. Results. - Of 249 participants, 175 (70%) reported having had serious health problems that most attributed to the war, and 74 (30%) reported no serious health problems. Principal factor analysis yielded 6 syndrome factors, explaining 71% of the variance. Dichotomized syndrome indicators identified the syndromes in 63 veterans (25%). Syndromes 1 ('impaired cognition,' characterized by problems with attention, memory, and reasoning, as well as insomnia, depression, daytime sleepiness, and headaches), 2 ('confusion-ataxia,' characterized by problems with thinking, disorientation, balance disturbances, vertigo, and impotence), and 3 ('arthro-myo-neuropathy,' characterized by joint and muscle pains, muscle fatigue, difficulty lifting, and extremity paresthesias) represented strongly clustered symptoms; whereas, syndromes 4 ('phobia- apraxia'), 5 ('fever-adenopathy'), and 6 ('weakness-incontinence') involved weaker clustering and mostly overlapped syndromes 2 and 3. Veterans with syndrome 2 were 12.5 times (95% confidence interval, 3.5-44.8) more likely to be unemployed than those with no health problems. A psychological profile, found in 48.4% of those with the syndromes, differed from posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, somatoform disorder, and malingering. Conclusion. - These findings support the hypothesis that clusters of symptoms of many Gulf War veterans represent discrete factor analysis-derived syndromes that appear to reflect a spectrum of neurologic injury involving the central, peripheral, and autonomic nervous systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)215-222
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of the American Medical Association
Volume277
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 15 1997

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ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)

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