Public Release: 

Georgetown researchers present findings at two-day conference on Gulf War illnesses

Georgetown University Medical Center

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Researchers from Georgetown University Medical Center will present findings of their research on Gulf War illnesses at the "Conference on Illnesses among Gulf War Veterans: A Decade of Scientific Research" to be held Wednesday, January 24, and Thursday, January 25, at the Hilton Alexandria Mark Center in Alexandria. Media are welcome to attend; the press room can be found in the Hickory Room on the main level of the hotel. For more information about the conference, call Dan Bruneau at (410) 962-1800, ext. 289, or Jim Benson at (202) 273-5705.

The conference was organized to allow researchers, clinicians, veterans and government officials concerned with Gulf War veterans' illnesses to exchange study results and learn about their impact on clinical care. Gulf War illnesses, characterized by pain, fatigue and cognitive difficulties, have been difficult to diagnose and treat because there is no marker that can be used to identify its cause.

Daniel Clauw, MD, and Timothy Gerrity, PhD, co-directors of Georgetown's Chronic Pain and Fatigue Research Center, will present papers along with David Williams, PhD, a Center member and Division Chief of Behavioral Medicine at Georgetown Medical Center. All three researchers are scheduled to speak on Wednesday afternoon.

Clauw will present research examining the unexplained pain experienced by veterans who complain of Gulf War illnesses. His study, which involved 1,007 people, found that the symptoms of Gulf War illnesses are very similar to the symptoms of other chronic multisymptom illnesses such as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome, suggesting a central rather than a peripheral cause for the pain.

Gerrity's research, involving a total of 99 subjects, compared the heart rate variability of veterans experiencing symptoms of Gulf War illnesses, fibromyalgia patients and a control group of healthy patients over a 24-hour period. Minute to minute changes in heart rate (heart rate variability) are considered normal because that means the body is responding appropriately to external challenges, or stressors, such as exercise, fear, and changes in temperature. However, too much or too little variability may indicate poor regulation of heart rate. Fibromyalgia patients have too little variability, indicating that their systems are not responding appropriately to the body's needs. Gerrity found that the veterans also experienced, although to a lesser extent than the fibromyalgia patients, a heart rate variability similar to that of fibromyalgia patients.

Williams' study compared the effects of standard medical treatment for symptoms of fibromyalgia with the effects of cognitive-behavioral therapy intervention plus standard medical care. The cognitive-behavioral therapy was delivered by a psychologist in a six-session group format that emphasized relaxation skills, exercise at gradual rates of intensity, and goal setting. The addition of the therapy to standard medial care improved the rate of treatment success by 48 percent. (Although Williams studied fibromyalgia patients, his research is being presented at this conference because the symptoms of ill Gulf War veterans and people with fibromyalgia are so similar.)

The two-day conference is sponsored by the Research Working Group of the Military and Veterans Health Coordinating Board, which was established in 1994 to plan and coordinate research projects related to Gulf War illnesses. It is co-chaired by the secretaries of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Defense and the Department of Health and Human Services.

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Georgetown University Medical Center is one of the nation's preeminent institutions of medical research and education. It includes a biomedical research enterprise as well as the nationally ranked School of Medicine, and the School of Nursing and Health Studies.

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