The Irritable Heart

The Medical Mystery of the Gulf War

Jeff Wheelwright (Author)


If oil, smoke, and nerve gas didn't cause Gulf War Syndrome, what did?

Following the 1991 Persian Gulf War, thousands of U.S. military veterans developed illnesses that medical science was unable to understand. Ten years later many veterans remain sick, and doctors still cannot agree on the cause.

In The Irritable Heart Jeff Wheelwright profiles five ailing veterans, unraveling the health mystery through their intimate and fascinating case histories. He describes the veterans' experiences, beginning with their deployment to the Gulf and tracking them through their return, their mysterious suffering, and their struggles to find the reasons for their illnesses.

Drawing on his experiences as a reporter in the Gulf in 1991, he reviews the toxic substances in the environment, such as oil smoke and nerve gas, that many believe to be the cause of the conditions. Wheelwright demonstrates why such scenarios are unlikely. Rather, he shows that the gulf war illnesses belong in the company of chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and multiple chemical sensitivity—symptom complexes that are increasing in America and evading a biomedical explanation. Although these contemporary illnesses are unrelated to war, Wheelwright points out that the gulf war ills have their own precedents in military history as far back as a Civil War malady known as "irritable heart."

Doubters have dismissed the veterans' conditions as a psychological fabrication—"It's all in their heads." Wheelwright maintains that gulf war syndrome is a real illness, involving both the body and the mind. It consists of physical symptoms greatly magnified and aggravated by psychological distress. But because modern medicine deals with the body and mind separately, the health investigation of the veterans' illnesses was bound to fail, leading to a bitter political polarization over the cause. Wheelwright puts us in the thick of the controversy—one that both obscured the medical inquiry and slighted the suffering of the veterans.

The only way to understand these elusive sicknesses is to consider the mind and body as one suffering system. With profound insight, The Irritable Heart takes the subject of chronic illness far beyond the medical aftermath of a desert war.

Book Details

  • Paperback
  • January 2001
  • ISBN 978-0-393-33873-7
  • 5 × 8 in / 432 pages
  • Sales Territory: Worldwide

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