Remember Gulf War Syndrome, the vague illness that struck one in three veterans of the 1991 war in the Persian Gulf? Well, 175,000 to 250,000 of those veterans still experience symptoms of overwhelming fatigue, memory loss, anxiety, depression, and joint and muscle pain with little relief and sometimes little compassion from doctors, according to a report issued last week by the Institute of Medicine. It analyzed the latest research on treatments and came to the conclusion that doctors shouldn’t recommend “one single therapy to manage the health of veterans” with the condition, known as chronic multi-symptom illness, or CMI, and shouldn’t take “a one-size-fits-all treatment approach.”
How it is distinct from post traumatic stress disorder isn’t clear, according to the report’s authors from the Harvard School of Public Health and elsewhere. “Despite years of research,” wrote the study authors, “there is no consensus about what causes CMI, but there is a growing belief that no specific agent or causal factor will be identified.”
Treatment needs to be individualized, but evidence suggests that antidepressants work best to alleviate a variety of symptoms, according to the report. Cognitive behavioral therapy — a form of psychotherapy where a patient is taught to challenge negative thoughts about medical symptoms — is also an effective treatment.