Gastrointestinal problems, chronic conditions like diabetes and Graves’ disease have been associated with the exposure to Agent Orange. This HealthHearty article elaborates more on the signs and symptoms that have been linked to the exposure to this toxic chemical.
The dioxin TCDD present in Agent Orange is extremely toxic and is categorized as a human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
The spraying of gallons of toxic herbicides, like Agent Orange, by the U.S. military forces during the Vietnam War was a way to counteract the guerrilla warfare tactics of their enemy. However, the use of these chemicals led to serious health implications for the soldiers of both countries. Even today, the general Vietnamese population is experiencing a wide range of severe illnesses as a result of the exposure.
War veterans who were exposed to the toxic chemicals developed a wide range of medical conditions. The incidence of diabetes and thyroid problems was significantly higher in veterans who had come in contact with the herbicide. The medical conditions that have been associated with the exposure to Agent Orange are discussed below.
Symptoms of Exposure to Agent Orange
Gastrointestinal problems that include nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, diarrhea, constipation, appetite loss, and gastric ulcers, have been reported from contact with Agent Orange.
AL amyloidosis is a rare condition in which there is unnatural accumulation of amyloid proteins in different tissues and organs of the body. It has often been correlated with plasma cell dyscrasia―a disorder marked by the presence of too much of a specific type of plasma cells. AL amyloidosis typically causes low RBC count, tingling and numbness in legs and feet, fatigue, joint discomfort, and overall weakness.
Type 2 Diabetes
Exposure to Agent Orange has also been linked to the onset of type 2 diabetes―a condition in which blood sugar levels are above the normal range. In this condition, the body does not respond to actions of insulin, the hormone involved in regulating blood sugar.
The toxic chemical can cause Graves’ disease, a condition in which the thyroid hormones are produced in excess amounts. Goiter (thyroid gland located in the neck area enlarges), unexplained weight loss, loose stools, bulging eyes, erectile problems, and menstrual irregularities are common symptoms of Graves’ disease.
This is a skin problem typically marked by formation of cysts, blackheads, and nodules. There is ample evidence to show that the onset of chloroacne is linked to contact with dioxin―the primary ingredient in Agent Orange. Depending on the severity of the condition, the symptoms may appear on the temple area and around the eyes, or extend to other areas of the face.
Porphyria cutanea tarda (PCT)
People affected with porphyria cutanea tarda tend to develop sun-sensitivity. So, exposure to the sun can cause scarring and may even lead to formation of blisters. Changes in pigmentation (tanning of exposed skin prominent), excessive hair growth over the cheeks are the other common features of PCT.
Agent Orange can also cause nerve damage, particularly in the peripheral areas (legs, arms, hands, feet) of the body. This can lead to numbness and tingling sensation (feeling of prickling of pins and needle) in the affected body part.
The dreaded C too, has been linked to the exposure to this toxic chemical. There have been several reports of U.S. servicemen and Vietnamese soldiers suffering from different types of cancer. However, these debilitating conditions may occur years after coming in contact with Agent Orange. The toxic agent can contribute to the development of following types of cancer:
Respiratory Cancer: This form of cancer affects the respiratory system that include larynx, bronchi, and lungs, and is typically marked by breathing problems, chest pain, persistent coughing, and hoarseness in voice.
Prostate Cancer: There has been an increased rate of prostate cancer among Vietnam War veterans, which is attributed to this toxic herbicide. In fact, war veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange carry a 50% risk of getting this form of cancer. Symptoms of prostate cancer include the urge to urinate frequently, weak urinary stream, blood in urine, and pain in the hips and back.
Hodgkin’s Lymphoma: This type of cancer primarily affects lymphocytes―a type of white blood cells that are a part of the lymphatic system. The lymphatic system consists of the lymphoid tissue (lymph nodes and related organs) and a clear fluid that contains lymphocytes and moves through the lymphatic vessels. In this type of cancer, the lymph nodes located in the neck, armpits, and other areas of the body, that include the spleen and groin, get enlarged. Other symptoms include itchy skin, excessive sweating at night, fever, and unexplained fever.
Multiple Myeloma: This is the cancer of the plasma cells that are known to generate antibodies and combat infections. So, people affected with multiple myeloma may suffer from recurrent infections as their immunity is severely compromised. Other symptoms include appetite loss, weight loss, weakness in legs, excessive thirst, drowsiness, constipation, and bone problems.
Chronic Lymphatic Leukemia: According to a recent research published by the Department of Preventive and Social Medicine, Otago University, the military forces of Vietnam carry double the chances of developing chronic lymphatic leukemia than those who were not exposed to the toxic environment. Various studies also indicate a correlation between exposure to Agent Orange and incidence of CLL. This condition is typically marked by abnormal production of B cells―a type of white blood cells, which causes symptoms like fever, frequent infections, easy bruising, swollen lymph nodes, loss of weight and night sweats.
Neurological conditions that have been attributed to Agent Orange exposure include Parkinson’s disease―a condition that causes muscle stiffness, difficulty in movement and is characterized by postural tremors and instability.
Ischemic Heart Disease
This condition deprives the heart of adequate blood supply. Also referred to as coronary heart disease (CHD), the heart problem causes chest pain that travels down to the arms and the back, and may be accompanied by breathing problems. The pain is prominent while doing any physical activity and resolves after taking rest. People affected with ischemic heart disease are at an increased risk of heart attack and heart failure.
The high rate of birth defects in Vietnam since the beginning of the war have also been attributed to the deadly effects of this toxic exposure. There have been reports of military forces and even civilians of Vietnam, having children with severe deformities. One study observed that 7.3% of children of Vietnam veterans showed some form of birth defects. The affected babies suffered from birth defects like anencephaly and spina bifida. In fact, reports suggest that even today, babies in Vietnam that are showing various congenital defects is probably due to parental exposure to Agent orange.