Irritable Bowel Syndrome in U.S. Veterans

IBS Is One of Veterans' Many Inexplicable Health Issues

Family hugging soldier before deployment
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U.S. Veterans who deployed in a foreign land and participated in active combat may develop long-term physical and psychological problems. Functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGDs), such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), are emerging in some veterans of more recent conflicts.

Most of the research on lingering illnesses in veterans focused on those from the Gulf War, but further information is coming out regarding health problems in those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Chronic Symptoms of Post-Deployment Health Problems

Some veterans, both men and women, suffer from a wide variety of ongoing and inexplicable health problems. Chronic issues reported by veterans include:

  • Abnormal weight loss
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Menstrual disorders
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Indigestion
  • Insomnia
  • Memory and other neurological problems
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Psychological disorders
  • Respiratory problems
  • Sleep disturbance

IBS and Gulf War Syndrome

Are you familiar with the term "Gulf War Syndrome?" The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) calls it “medically unexplained chronic multisymptom illnesses.”

The VA now officially recognizes the following illnesses may have been the result of active duty in the more recent military conflicts if symptoms initially appeared during or after deployment:

  • IBS

The causes of the aforementioned symptoms have yet to be determined.

The Link Between IBS and Military Service

Ongoing research focuses on post-infectious IBS (IBS-PI) because those stationed in foreign lands are at high risk for travelers' diarrhea, foodborne illness, and other forms of infectious gastroenteritis.

Your risk of developing ongoing IBS after such an illness is six times higher than that of a person who did not experience the original illness and remains in place for a few years following the initial illness.

Additionally, there is a heightened risk for IBS-PI in individuals who experience higher levels of anxiety, particularly in conjunction with stressful life events, in the three months prior to the illness. The stressors inherent in military service may contribute to the increased risk of developing IBS, including:

  • traumatic combat experiences
  • the ongoing fear of being harmed
  • being far from home

Veterans Benefits for IBS Diagnosis

The VA recognizes IBS as a disabling condition eligible for health care benefits and disability compensation if you served in the Persian Gulf, Iraq, or Afghanistan. If you suspect your IBS is a result of your military service, you should be eligible for a free health assessment, as well as ongoing health care services, at your local Veterans Health Administration center.

If you believe that your IBS prevents you from engaging in gainful employment, you may be eligible for disability benefits. For a comprehensive overview of military disability benefits, see:


"Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses: Medically Unexplained Chronic Multisymptom Illnesses" U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs website.

Porter, C., "The Incidence and Gastrointestinal Infectious Risk of Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders in a Healthy US Adult Population" American Journal of Gastroenterology 2011 106:130-138.

Porter, C., "Risk of Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders in U.S. Military Following Self-Reported Diarrhea and Vomiting During Deployment " Digestive Diseases and Sciences 2011 56:3262-3269.

"Presumptive Service Connection for Diseases Associated With Service in the Southwest Asia Theater of Operations During the Persian Gulf War: Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders." Federal Register July 15, 2011.