What is Gulf War Illness?
Gulf War Illness, also known as Gulf War Syndrome, is a collection of symptoms that affect veterans of the 1990-1991 Gulf War.
The symptoms of Gulf War Illness are not standard and vary widely between individuals, but many diagnosed with the illness experience cognitive dysfunctions, fatigue, mood disturbances, disturbed sleep patterns, IBS, and musculoskeletal pain. The exact cause of the symptoms is unknown but some attribute it to chemical exposure, such as nerve gas, bacterial infections, and the psychological effects of combat.
Despite the war taking place over twenty years ago, some veterans are still struggling with the illness.
Why is the treatment individualised and not standard?
Because the symptoms vary so widely between sufferers treatment programs must be individualised rather than standard.
Treatments tackle patient’s presented symptoms to provide relief and a better quality of life because the underlying cause is not understood.
Current treatments include:
♦ Talking therapy/counselling
♦ Pain medications
♦ Anti-spasmodic/constipation medications for gastrointestinal issues
What was the acupuncture study?
A study has shown that acupuncture can help the pain and disability experienced by veterans with gulf war illness.
The study was randomised and undertaken by acupuncture practitioners with at least five years of experience. Extra training was also provided by the clinical team.
104 veterans were split into two groups. The first received bi-weekly treatments over six months and the second group received weekly treatments after a two month waiting period.
Outcomes were measured on the SF-36 scale, which is a well-respected general measure of health questionnaire, with researchers focused particularly on the physical aspects of health. Levels of pain were measured on the McGill pain scale.
All measurements were taken at baseline (the start of the trial before acupuncture treatments) and at the two, four, and six month points.
What are the results?
Results indicated that the 85 veterans who completed the course had a statistically significant reduction in pain and an improvement on the SF-36 scale at the six month point.
The first group, who began acupuncture immediately and received bi-weekly treatments, saw the most improvements.
Researchers suggest that acupuncture offers physical disability and pain relief to veterans and aim to continue trials into what the optimum dosage should be. They also recommend larger study groups in future trials.
Could the treatment work for other complex illnesses?
Yes, because acupuncture treats a collection of symptoms it’s a useful tool for multi-symptom illness such as IBS, fibromyalgia or any condition producing fatigue, irritability, anxiety, insomnia, and pain.
One of the benefits of acupuncture is that it can be tailored to fit an individual patient’s symptoms. The study mentioned above needed to standardise treatment in order to provide a measurable outcome, but there’s no standard acupuncture practice meaning patients get a individual treatment that suits them.
Studies have shown acupuncture is well-tolerated by most patients. It’s safe when carried out by a professional, cost effective, widely available, and suits those unable to take medications or who are struggling with an incurable illness.
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