Mesothelioma, one of the major issues facing military veterans, is a deadly form of respiratory cancer that results from asbestos exposure. Like many other chronic conditions that develop over time, the illness is hard to detect, especially in its early stages, and has often been mistaken for lung cancer.
Sometimes decades pass before scientists discover causes and develop standards for proper diagnosis of these illnesses. In some cases, that may be changing. New technology is providing ways to identify and treat many of these diseases and is lending credibility to the voice of veterans seeking help for improperly labeled symptoms.
Recent research at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center shows that Gulf veterans suffered blood flow abnormalities in the brain that never went away. In some instances, they have worsened. The research appeared in a medical journal called “Radiology,” and Medical News Today reported the story on September 19, 2011.
The same researchers also found a specific MRI technique that allows them to better define the three primary types of Gulf War illnesses and distinguish between them. Called Gulf War Syndrome, the poorly understood illnesses probably originated from exposure to nerve gas and neurotoxic chemicals.
The scientific advisory committee of the U. S. Department of Veteran Affairs estimates that over 700,000 members of the military served in the 1991 Persian Gulf War; approximately one out of four of these veterans suffer from Gulf War Syndrome.
Symptoms of the three major categories of Gulf Syndrome include the following:
• Neuropathic pain
• Inability to concentrate
• Memory deficits
• Problems with spatial balance
• Motor control disorders
Many of these ailments are indicative of damage to the hippocampus area of the brain. In 1998, the same research team published another study regarding blood flow to the hippocampus. Recent findings resulted from a new procedure called arterial spin, or ASL, that allowed doctors to revisit the issue. The study included 13 control participants and 35 patients who suffered from one of the syndromes related to the Gulf War Syndrome.
The newer technology detects brain abnormalities not found by traditional MRIs, allowing doctors to diagnose the condition during a single session lasting approximately two hours. It does not expose patients to ionizing radiation. Again, research showed abnormal blood flow to the hippocampal region of the brain, sometimes worsening over the 11 years between the tests. Scientists think the research will help veterans with Gulf War Syndrome and aid in genomic research to determine who is affected by chemical exposure and why.
Grants from the U.S. Army Medical Research and Material Command and the National Institutes of Health, along with help from the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Dallas, funded the studies.
Petty Officer Second Class,
United States Navy Veteran.