Relationship of psychiatric status to Gulf War veterans' health problems

Jessica Wolfe, Susan P. Proctor, Darin J. Erickson, Tim Heeren, Matthew J. Friedman, Mina T. Huang, Patricia B. Sutker, Jennifer J. Vasterling, Roberta F. White

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

93 Scopus citations

Abstract

Objective: A growing body of research has shown that there are important links between certain psychiatric disorders and health symptom reporting. Two disorders in particular (posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depression) have been the most widely implicated to date, and this association has sometimes been used to explain the occurrence of ill-defined medical problems and increased somatic symptoms in certain groups, most recently Gulf War veterans. Methods: Structured psychiatric diagnostic interviews were used to examine the presence of major psychiatric (axis I) disorders and their relation to health symptom reporting in a well- characterized, stratified subset of Gulf War veterans and a non-Gulf-deployed veteran comparison group. Results: Rates of most psychiatric disorders were substantially lower than national comorbidity estimates, consistent with prior studies showing heightened physical and emotional well-being among active-duty military personnel. Rates of PTSD and major depression, however, were significantly elevated relative to the veteran comparison group. The diagnosis of PTSD showed a small but significant association with increased health symptom reports. However, nearly two-thirds of Gulf participants reporting moderate to high health symptoms had no axis I psychiatric diagnosis. Conclusions: Results suggest that rates of psychiatric illness were generally low with the exception of PTSD and major depression. Although PTSD was associated with higher rates of reported health problems, this disorder did not entirely account for symptoms reported by participants. Factors other than psychiatric status may play a role in Gulf War health problems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)532-540
Number of pages9
JournalPsychosomatic medicine
Volume61
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - Jan 1 1999
Externally publishedYes

Keywords

  • Gulf War veterans
  • Health symptoms
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Posttraumatic stress disorder

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