Several clinical syndromes are defined solely on the basis of symptoms, absent an identifiable medical etiology. When evaluating and treating individuals with these syndromes, clinicians' beliefs might shape decisions regarding referral, diagnostic testing, and treatment. To assess clinician beliefs about the etiology and treatment of "Gulf War illness," we surveyed a sample of general internal medicine clinicians (GIMCs) and mental health clinicians (MHCs).
Clinicians (77 GIMCs and 214 MHCs) at the Veterans Affairs Puget Sound Health Care System, Seattle, Wash, and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Portland, Ore, responded to a mailed survey of their beliefs about Gulf War illness.
Compared with GIMCs, MHCs were more likely to believe that Gulf War illness was the result of a "physical disorder" and that symptoms resulted from viruses or bacteria, immunizations, exposure to toxins, chemical weapons, or a combination of toxins and stress (P < .05). Conversely, GIMCs were more likely than MHCs to believe that Gulf War illness was a "mental disorder" and that symptoms were due to stress or posttraumatic stress disorder (P < .05). In addition, MHCs were more likely to endorse biological interventions to treat Gulf War illness (P < .01), whereas GIMCs were more likely to endorse psychological interventions.
Clinicians' beliefs about the etiology and effective treatment of Gulf War illness vary and thus might contribute to the multiple referrals often reported by Gulf War veterans. Health care models for Gulf War veterans and others with symptom-based disorders necessitate collaborative interdisciplinary approaches.