Gulf War syndrome (GWS) or Gulf War illness (GWI) is a chronic multisymptom disorder affecting veterans and civilians after the 1991 Gulf War. A wide range of acute and chronic symptoms have included fatigue, musculoskeletal pain, cognitive problems, skin rashes and diarrhea. Approximately 250,000 of the 697,000 veterans who served in the 1991 Gulf War are afflicted with enduring chronic multi-symptom illness, a condition with serious consequences.
Those who were near conflicts during or downwind of chemical weapons depot demolition, had exposure to toxic chemicals which are currently believed to be the cause of the illness. Several specific causes have been investigated, including pyridostigmine bromide (PB) nerve gas antidote (NAPP) pills, organophosphate military strength pesticides, chemical weapons, and depleted uranium. Causes which have been ruled out include post traumatic stress disorder, anthrax vaccinations, and smoke from oil well fires, though these exposures may have led to various illnesses and symptoms in a limited number of Gulf War veterans. PB or NAPP antidote pills given to protect troops from nerve agents and military strength insecticides used during deployment have currently been most closely linked to Gulf War veterans' chronic multi-symptom illness. Exposure to the destruction of the Khamisiyah weapons depot, where large quantities of Iraqi chemical munitions containing sarin and cyclosarin nerve agents was stored, is negatively correlated with motor speed. Exposure to depleted uranium is unlikely to be a primary cause of Gulf War Illness.
Three large studies have shown a significant but modest increase in birth defects in children born to Gulf War veterans, however information on specific types of birth defects have been inconsistent and the rates fall within the normal range found in the general population.
Methods of preventing or treating Gulf War syndrome vary. While the treatment of sarin exposure has been studied, other acetylcholinesterase inhibitors such as pyridostigmine bromide and organophosphate insecticides may or may not involve similar management.