London: Military personnel who have served in the armed forces are 50 per cent more likely to develop motor neurone disease than those who have never been in service, according to a new study.
Motor neurone disease is a serious life-changing condition which causes progressive paralysis and premature death
It is extremely rare, affecting only five to seven people in every 100,000 in the UK. In the US, it is known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig's Disease named after a baseball player who developed the disease. Its causes are not well understood.
In 2003, research was published in the US linking the condition to military service in the Gulf.
A much larger study in 2005 showed that people who had any military service were at increased risk, and that the risk was not just confined to Gulf veterans.
Researchers at the University of Glasgow looked at 57,000 veterans in Scotland who were born between 1945 and 1985 and who had a wide range of experience and lengths of service in the Armed Forces over a 50-year period.
Their results were similar to the 2005 US study, they found a 50 per cent increased risk after military service, compared with people who had never served, but there was no link to any operational deployment and the risk did not worsen with longer service.
"This is an important study which has confirmed an increased risk in military personnel. We also showed that there was a higher risk in everyone who had experienced an injury, but the risk was greater in people who had served in the armed forces," Beverly Bergman, a researcher of the team said
"Because the cases occurred over such a long period of time, we are confident that there is no specific link to Gulf War service, although higher rates of military smoking may explain the increased risk. This is a very rare disease and veterans should not worry unduly," Bergman said.
The study, which used data from the Scottish Veterans Health Study to examine rates of hospitalization and death from motor neurone disease is published in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine.