We studied whether exposure to Agent Orange and its contaminant, 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (dioxin), during the Vietnam War is related to peripheral neuropathy. The index subjects were veterans of Operation Ranch Hand, the unit responsible for aerial herbicide spraying in Vietnam from 1962 to 1971. We report peripheral nerve function assessed in 1982, 1985, 1987, 1992 and 1997, nerve conduction velocities measured in 1982, and vibrotactile thresholds of the great toes measured in 1992 and 1997. We assigned each Ranch Hand veteran to one of three exposure categories named "background", "low" and "high", based on his serum dioxin level. Other than the bilateral vibrotactile abnormalities, we consistently found a statistically significant increased risk of all indices of peripheral neuropathy among Ranch Hand veterans in the high exposure category in 1997, and a statistically significant increased risk of diagnosed peripheral neuropathy, incorporating bilateral vibrotactile abnormalities of the great toes, in the high category in 1992. Restricting to the enlisted veterans did not alter these results. Cautious interpretation of these results is appropriate until the relationship between pre-clinical diabetes mellitus and peripheral neuropathy is further evaluated in future examinations.
- Peripheral neuropathy
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