Gulf War Mystery: Why Is MS Onset Slower in Gulf Vets?

FEBRUARY 19, 2016
Gale Scott
The prevalence of multiple sclerosis (MS) is on the rise in most countries, possibly because people are living longer and because diagnostic techniques have improved.

In research presented at the ACTRIMS Forum in New Orleans, LA, William Culpepper of the Baltimore Veterans Administration Medical Center in Baltimore MD and colleagues raised an intriguing question: why has the time of onset to diagnosis increased for veterans of the Gulf War?

The team set out to compare clinical characteristics at diagnosis of these Gulf War vets with that of veterans who served in World War II.

The Gulf cohort was limited to 515 white men who met the same disease status criteria as a matched cohort of 335 World War II series veterans.

They were assessed as to functional system scores for cerebellar, brainstem, sensory, and bowel/bladder damage.

The Gulf cohort showed different functional systems impairment, with an average of 2.5 systems impaired versus 3.5 for the WWII group.

“These data suggest that the contemporary MS population may be comprised of patients with milder disease than in WWII,” the team concluded.  But they were unable to explain why the MS diagnosis could be made at a median of 19 months from onset in the WWII group but took roughly three years in the Gulf veterans.

“This has implications for our understanding of the secular, clinical, and epidemiologic trends in MS and on the management of an increasing number of patients with a life-long chronic neurologic disease,” the researchers concluded.

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