Military Service, Deployments, and Exposures in Relation to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Etiology and Survival

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Abstract

Rates of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) have been reported to be higher among US military veterans, who currently number more than 21 million, but the causal factor(s) has not been identified. We conducted a review to examine the weight of evidence for associations between military service, deployments, and exposures and ALS etiology and survival. Thirty articles or abstracts published through 2013 were reviewed. Although the current evidence suggests a positive association with ALS etiology, it is too limited to draw firm conclusions regarding associations between military service and ALS etiology or survival. Some evidence suggests that deployment to the 1990-1991 Persian Gulf War may be associated with ALS etiology, but there is currently no strong evidence that any particular military exposure is associated with ALS etiology. Future studies should address the limitations of previous ones, such as reliance on mortality as a surrogate for incidence, a dearth of survival analyses, lack of clinical data, low statistical power, and limited exposure assessment. The Genes and Environmental Exposures in Veterans with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (GENEVA) Study is one such study, but additional research is needed to determine whether military-related factors are associated with ALS and to assess potential prevention strategies.

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