October 13, 1997

Relationship Between Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Self-Reported Physical Symptoms in Persian Gulf War Veterans

Author Affiliations

From the Cincinnati Veterans Affairs Medical Center (Drs Baker, Mendenhall, and Steinberg and Mss Simbartl and Magan) and Departments of Psychiatry (Dr Baker) and Medicine (Dr Mendenhall and Ms Magan), University of Cincinnati Medical Center, and Department of Psychology, University of Cincinnati (Dr Steinberg), Cincinnati, Ohio.

Arch Intern Med. 1997;157(18):2076-2078. doi:10.1001/archinte.1997.00440390062009

Background:  While prior studies show that combat veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) report more physical symptoms than veterans without PTSD, the link between PTSD and somatic complaints in Persian Gulf War veterans (PGWVs) is yet to be evaluated.

Methods:  A questionnaire booklet was completed by 188 PGWVs, of whom half were patients in a veterans health screening clinic and half were non—treatment-seeking volunteers on active duty. The booklet included the Combat Exposure Scale, the Mississippi Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Scale (MPTSD), and a subjective symptombased health questionnaire.

Results:  The 24 PGWVs (12.8%) with PTSD (MPTSD score ≥116) reported more combat exposure (p=.02) and a greater number of physical symptoms (P=.001) than other PGWVs. Fatigue, nausea, muscle aches, dizziness, back pain, stomach ache, and numbness were much more likely to be reported by those with PTSD (MPTSD score ≥116) 116) than by those without PTSD (MPTSD score ≤95).

Conclusions:  Physicians examining PGWVs should be alert to the possiblity of PTSD in this group and that those with PTSD are more likely to report physical symptoms that may overlap with those in Persian Gulf syndrome. Consequently, mental health screening is essential, since for those veterans with PTSD diagnosis of other coexisting conditions may be confounded and early effective treatment of their PTSD may be delayed. Also, given the increased reporting of certain symptoms by those with PTSD, those seeking the cause of Persian Gulf syndrome should control for PTSD when determining the symptom cluster that may constitute this condition.Arch Intern Med. 1997;157:2076-2078