In this review we summarize the scientific literature on reproductive health following deployment to the first Gulf war by armed service personnel. All the studies examined had methodological limitations, making interpretation difficult. Nonetheless we conclude that for male veterans there is no strong or consistent evidence to date for an effect of service in the first Gulf war on the risk of major, clearly defined, birth defects or stillbirth in offspring conceived after deployment. Effects on specific rare defects cannot be excluded at this stage since none of the studies had the statistical power to examine them. For miscarriage and infertility, there is some evidence of small increased risks associated with service, but the role of bias is likely to be strong. For female veterans, there is insufficient information to make robust conclusions, although the weight of evidence to date does not indicate any major problem associated specifically with deployment to the Gulf. None of the studies have been able to examine risk according particular exposures, and so possible associations with specific exposures for smaller groups of exposed veterans cannot be excluded.
We suggest that the way forward to address the question of veterans' reproductive health with confidence in the future is prospective surveillance following deployment. Anything less will result in further problems of interpretation and continued anxiety for parents, as well as prospective parents, in the armed forces.
One contribution of 17 to a Theme Issue ‘The health of Gulf War veterans’.
- © 2006 The Royal Society