Gulf War Syndrome Symptoms
Linked To Brain Damage
CHICAGO (Reuters) - Symptoms such as memory loss and dizziness suffered by U.S. veterans with Gulf War syndrome can be correlated to specific areas of the brain where cells have died, probably from chemical exposure, researchers said on Monday. In 1999 doctors from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas presented the results of brain scans performed on victims of the syndrome showing depleted brain cells in three areas of their brains.
"This year we show that brain cell losses from specific areas of the brain correlate with different symptoms and abnormalities," lead researcher Robert Haley said in a report released at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.
The scans performed on 12 veterans with severe cases of the syndrome found brain cell losses of between 10 percent and 25 percent in three regions deep inside the brain -- the basal ganglia in each hemisphere and the brain stem. Scans performed on healthy veterans of the 1990-1991 Gulf War were normal.
The Texas researchers have found the amount of brain cell loss in the Gulf War veterans to be comparable to that of patients with brain diseases like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease), multiple sclerosis, dementia and other degenerative neurological disorders, although the brain areas affected are different.
Veterans with damage to the right basal ganglia appeared to share symptoms such as impaired sense of direction, memory lapses and depression.
Brain cell losses on the left side appeared to cause more general confusion, including difficulty in understanding instructions, reading, solving problems and making decisions. Left side damage also appeared to correlate with elevated levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in movement and emotion.
Damage to the brain stem appeared to account at least in part for loss of balance and dizzy spells in the veterans.
"This helps explain why not all patients have the same exact symptoms. Depending on which brain regions were damaged by chemicals in the war, veterans may have more or different types of symptoms," Haley said.
In past research the Texas team has identified three primary Gulf War syndromes, and tried to link sets of symptoms with different combinations of chemicals toxic to brain cells.
Syndrome 1, commonly found in veterans who wore pesticide-containing flea collars, is marked by impaired cognition.
Syndrome 2, called confusion ataxia, is the most severe and debilitating. It was found among veterans who said they were exposed to low-level nerve gas and experienced side effects from anti-nerve gas pyridostigmine (PB), tablets.
"It may have been the combination of low-level nerve gas exposure and anti-gas tablets that caused the brain damage underlying (the most severe form of the) syndrome," Haley said.
Syndrome 3, characterized by central pain, is found in veterans who wore insect repellent with high concentrations of DEET, a repellent chemical, and who experienced side effects from the anti-nerve gas tablets.
The researchers noted that brain scans performed on veterans suffering from combat stress and post-traumatic stress symptoms did not correlate significantly with damage in any of the three brain regions.
As many as 100,000 of the 700,000 U.S. soldiers who served in the Gulf War complain of symptoms, which many attribute to exposure to chemicals.
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