The health effects of the Gulf War are still widely felt among female veterans even decades later

Former female soldiers who served in the Gulf War were more likely to report a constellation of symptoms, including respiratory illness and cognitive dysfunction, if they deployed, a new study finds.

According to new research, published in the Journal of Women’s Health and conducted by Augusta University, female Gulf War veterans are still experiencing the burden of debilitating symptoms from their deployment, even decades later.

In their study, close to 300 American female veterans in mid-adulthood across the various branches of the armed forces took participation. 203 deployed for combat while 98 never entered a war zone during the course of the military conflict.

Among the clinical complaints reported by the female veterans, effects on cognition and the presence of neurological symptoms were the most prevalent. Headaches and respiratory difficulties were also associated with time spent in a war zone. Additionally, difficulty concentrating was reported as a persistent health outcome.

“It’s been over 25 years since the war ended and these are very persistent health outcomes,” a co-author of the study stated in a news release. “This tells us that the way the Gulf War illness manifests itself may be different in female than male veterans, so it’s important to take gender into account.”

In the new findings, the gender differences in clinical complaints are generally consistent with past studies, indicating that women have endured the most chronic health effects from deployment.

“Our results showed at least a 14% excess frequency prevalence in all seven significantly different symptoms encompassing two out of the six Kansas Gulf War Illness criteria, including neurological/mood/cognition, and respiratory domains,” the study concluded. “These results suggest that further study of these symptom domains is warranted in Gulf War women veterans.”

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