Scientists now know that Gulf War Syndrome is more than just a psychological condition—it's actually tied to brain damage. But for the first time, they have zeroed in on physical proof that this is the case. The Georgetown researchers used fMRI machines on 31 Gulf War vets and were able to spot abnormalities in the bundles of nerve fibers that process pain. They "have deteriorated compared to the control," says a researcher, and USA Today explains the impact thusly: "a tiny pulse of pressure is interpreted as a painful pinch, or normal muscle fatigue from walking a flight of stairs could be interpreted as climbing to the fourteenth floor."
The discovery is "huge," says another researcher, because it will allow veterans to be quickly diagnosed via the fMRI scan. Most hospitals are equipped with the necessary MRI machines, and would just need to install the proper software and train their technicians on its use. "We're able to say, 'There is something here,'" says the study's lead author. "'Take these veterans seriously when they come in.'" You can check out PLoS ONE to see the original paper. (Read more Gulf War Syndrome stories.)