Biological measures and diagnostic tools for Gulf War Illness – A systematic review

Emily G. Gean, Chelsea K. Ayers, Kara A. Winchell, Michele Freeman, Ashlyn M. Press, Robin Paynter, Devan Kansagara, Shannon M. Nugent

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Aims: Gulf War Illness (GWI) is a chronic multisymptom illness with debated etiology and pathophysiology. This systematic review catalogues studies of validated biological tests for diagnosing GWI and of associations between biological measures and GWI for their promise as biomarkers. Main methods: We searched multiple sources through February 2020 for studies of diagnostic tests of GWI and of associations between biological measures and GWI. We abstracted data on study design, demographics, and outcomes. We assessed the risk of bias of included studies. Key findings: We did not identify any studies validating tests of biomarkers that distinguish cases of GWI from non-cases. We included the best-fitting studies, 32 completed and 24 ongoing or unpublished studies, of associations between GWI and biological measures. The less well-fitting studies (n = 77) were included in a Supplementary Table. Most studies were of the central nervous and immune systems and indicated a significant association of the biological measure with GWI case status. Biological measures were heterogeneous across studies. Significance: Our review indicates that there are no existing validated biological tests to determine GWI case status. Many studies have assessed the potential association between a variety of biological measures and GWI, the majority of which pertain to the immune and central nervous systems. More importantly, while most studies indicated a significant association between biological measures and GWI case status, the biological measures across studies were extremely heterogeneous. Due to the heterogeneity, the focus of the review is to map out what has been examined, rather than synthesize information.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number119360
JournalLife Sciences
StatePublished - Jun 15 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Biomarker
  • Diagnosis
  • Gulf War Illness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Pharmacology, Toxicology and Pharmaceutics(all)


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