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Research on restrictive pulmonary disease and herbicide exposure in Vietnam War Veterans

Agent Orange Newsletter: Information for Vietnam-era Veterans and their families.
 
barrels of herbicide

Vietnam War Veterans have expressed concern about chronic lung conditions and a possible connection to herbicide exposure. A study of Army Chemical Corps (ACC) Veterans by VA’s Epidemiology Program, Post Deployment Health Services (PDHS), provided new insights about the impact of herbicide exposure on restrictive respiratory disease, a class of chronic lung conditions that reduce a person’s ability to expand their lungs when inhaling.

ACC Veterans are an important group to study because these Veterans handled or sprayed tactical herbicides during the Vietnam War and likely had one of the highest levels of herbicide exposure among those who served during that time. For the 468 ACC Veterans in this analysis, researchers reviewed physical examination, medical record, and health survey data from a large study of these Veterans conducted in 2013. Read about this study. As a part of the physical examination, researchers used a spirometer to measure breathing and airflow out of the lungs. Spirometry is just one of a group of objective tests that doctors can use to test how well a person’s lungs work. Herbicide exposure was based on whether a Veteran reported being exposed to herbicides.

The prevalence of restrictive lung disease in ACC Veterans who reported spraying herbicides was almost twice that of ACC Veterans who did not report spraying herbicides. However, after considering other Veteran characteristics, such as cigarette smoking and whether a Veteran served in Vietnam or other locations during the War, no statistically significant association was observed between spirometrically-determined restrictive lung disease and herbicide exposure. Researchers observed significant, elevated associations between restrictive lung disease and race/ethnicity and higher waist circumference.

These new results extend PDHS’s previously reported findings on lung disease and herbicide exposure. This study also represents the first published research on breathing restriction determined by spirometry in Vietnam War Veterans. Epidemiology Program researchers recommended additional studies on this topic, to include full pulmonary function testing and more targeted research designs.

Read more about the study, “Spirometric Pulmonary Restriction in Herbicide-Exposed U.S. Vietnam War Veterans.”

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