Sleep Apnea in Gulf War Veterans - Public Health
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Sleep Apnea in Gulf War Veterans

Military Exposures & Your Health: Information for Veterans who servedthe gulf war era and their families
A napping man in a red sweater

Sleep Apnea is a serious health condition. It is an important predictor of heart disease. It can cause you to fall asleep while driving, can lead to changes in brain structure, and can affect your ability to convert short-term memories into long-term memories.

According to the Mayo Clinic, there are several types of sleep apnea, but the most common is obstructive sleep apnea. This type of sleep apnea occurs when your throat muscles intermittently relax and block your airway during sleep. A noticeable sign of obstructive sleep apnea is snoring. Risk factors for obstructive sleep apnea include excess weight, narrowed airways, hypertension, smoking, genetic factors, chronic nasal obstruction, neck size, and diabetes. Thinner individuals can also develop obstructive sleep apnea.

Some Veterans speculate that Gulf War service may be linked to obstructive sleep apnea; however, researchers have not yet proven this, as the data are limited, and research studies have not controlled for the risk factors listed above. Some data or research findings include:

  • VA published a report in 2015 that showed that among VA users, the prevalence of sleep apnea was highest among Gulf War Veterans when compared to other Veteran groups.
  • Another VA study suggested a relationship between insomnia severity, subjective sleep quality, and risk for obstructive sleep apnea in Veterans with Gulf War illness; however, the investigators did not study if obstructive sleep apnea was more common overall in Gulf War Veterans.
  • Among Veterans with Gulf War illness, researchers found a possible association with sleep apnea and Gulf War illness based on measures of arousals and inspiratory flow dynamics (see the study).
  • In a small pilot study of Veterans with Gulf War illness, nasal CPAP was found to greatly improve symptoms in Veterans with Gulf War illness and sleep-disordered breathing.

These studies suggest that there could be a relationship between sleep apnea, Gulf War service, and potentially, Gulf War illness, but more studies are needed to control for other confounding variables or causes.

Currently, sleep apnea is not a presumptive condition, so Veterans must file a claim on an individual basis if they are seeking disability compensation and/or increased health care eligibility.

VA encourages Veterans who are concerned about possible sleep apnea to discuss it with their primary care provider. Learn more about sleep apnea and treatment.

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