People who have served in the armed forces are more likely to develop motor neurone disease (MND), according to a study.
The incurable neurodegenerative disease attacks nerves in the brain and spinal cord leading to progressive paralysis and affects around 5,000 in the UK.
A number of studies in the US – where MND is known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s Disease – linked the condition to military service in the Gulf and researchers from the University of Glasgow have now looked at Scottish veterans.
The team analysed 57,000 veterans who were born between 1945 and 1985 and who had a wide range of experience and length of service in the armed forces. They compared these to 173,000 non-veterans in the latest part of the long-term Scottish Veterans Health Study.
Looking at the rates of hospitalisation and death from MND, the study found there was a 50 per cent increased risk for those who had served in the armed forces. But there was no link to a particular deployment or length of service.
Researchers said the disease remains very rare and veterans and current personnel “should not worry unduly”.
Lead researcher Dr Beverly Bergman said: “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.
“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.”
A Ministry of Defence spokeswoman said they would considering the findings. The research is published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine.