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Abnormally high number of Lou Gehrig's disease cases identified among Gulf War veterans

DALLAS Sept. 23, 2003 An unusually high number of veterans of the 1991 Gulf War are becoming ill and dying of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which typically does not strike until decades later in life, according to Dr. Robert Haley, chief of epidemiology at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

A study published in today's issue of Neurology shows that veterans of the first Gulf War under the age of 45 have developed ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, as much as three times more frequently than those of comparable ages in the general population.

Another study by the Department of Veterans Affairs published in the same issue of the journal confirms Dr. Haley's findings using a different method. The VA undertook its study in 1998, one year after Dr. Haley began his investigation at the request of a 35-year-old Gulf War veteran who was diagnosed with ALS a few years after serving in the Persian Gulf. Michael Donnelly and his father, Tom, contacted Dr. Haley after learning that several other young veterans of the war also had the illness.

"This disease occurred in a very abnormal age group in people in their 20s and 30s instead of 60s and 70s," Dr. Haley said. "It raises the question whether the condition might have been caused or triggered prematurely by unusual environmental exposures in the war."

The papers by Dr. Haley and VA researchers represent the first peer-reviewed studies establishing the increased incidence of ALS among Gulf War veterans.

ALS is a neurodegenerative disorder that attacks nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, leading to muscle weakness in the arms and legs and difficulty speaking, swallowing and breathing, and eventually loss of all muscle function. It affects about 30,000 Americans, and is most commonly associated with baseball Hall of Fame member Lou Gehrig, who retired in 1939 after being diagnosed with the illness. Although Mr. Gehrig died of ALS two years later at age 37, the disor
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Contact: Rachel Horton
rachel.horton@utsouthwestern.edu
214-648-3404
UT Southwestern Medical Center
22-Sep-2003


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