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Veterans

Could This Be A Breakthrough In Treating Gulf War Syndrome?

The disorder affects about 25% of the 700,000 veterans who served in Operation Desert Storm.

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All veterans reported improved balance following participating in the study (Picture: PA).

Veterans suffering from Gulf War Syndrome could benefit from a new portable device that generates low-level electrical noises.

Many survivors of the First Gulf War, which took place between 1990 and 1991, suffer tiredness, memory problems and chronic headaches, as well as skin and respiratory disorders.

The disorder affects about 25% of the 700,000 veterans who served in Operation Desert Storm.

Its origin is uncertain, though it has been attributed to exposure to pesticides, vaccines, and other chemicals.

A new study by researchers in the United States examined how Gulf War illnesses affect veterans' vestibular systems, which are integral to balance, memory and brain blood flow.

All veterans involved in the study reported improved balance.

Other symptoms affecting Gulf War veterans include joint pain, indigestion, insomnia, and dizziness, according to the US Department of Veterans Affairs, which supported the study.

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The Gulf War or Operation Desert Shield was from 1990-1991 (Picture: MOD).

Study lead author Associate Professor Jorge Serrador, of Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, said: "Although it's been more than 25 years since the conflict, we still do not understand the underlying cause of these symptoms and have yet to develop an effective treatment."

The researchers examined vestibular function in 60 veterans who participated in Operation Desert Storm, of which 54 suffered with Gulf War illnesses and six of whom were healthy - as well as 36 civilians who were of the same age and sex.

They found that reduced vestibular function and poor balance appear to be prevalent in veterans with Gulf War Illness.

To examine if vestibular function and balance could be improved, the researchers developed an electrical stimulator clipped to the earlobe and attached to a Walkman-size box that generated a low-level, random electrical noise pattern that was imperceptible to the wearer.

Prof Serrador said: "The electrical stimulation added a random noise pattern into the veterans' vestibular systems that travelled through the earlobes into the inner ear, which acts like the body's accelerometer.

"This added noise improved balance in 100% of the veterans with Gulf War Illness."

The findings suggest that correcting the vestibular system may treat other conditions associated with Gulf War illnesses.

Prof Serrador said: "For these veterans, it's like walking on a balance beam all day.

"When they're trying to figure out where they are in space to stay balanced, it's sapping cognitive reserves for other functions like memory."

The researchers are now testing to see how long the effects last after removing the device.

They also will try to determine whether using a portable version of the stimulator helps relieve other symptoms of Gulf War illnesses.