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Multiple chemical sensitivity: a 1999 consensus

  [ 65 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ] • May 23, 2000

Consensus criteria for the definition of multiple chemical sensitivity (MCS) were first identified in a 1989 multidisciplinary survey of 89 clinicians and researchers with extensive experience in, but widely differing views of, MCS. A decade later, their top 5 consensus criteria (i.e., defining MCS as [1] a chronic condition [2] with symptoms that recur reproducibly [3] in response to low levels of exposure [4] to multiple unrelated chemicals and [5] improve or resolve when incitants are removed) are still unrefuted in published literature. Along with a 6th criterion that we now propose adding (i.e., requiring that symptoms occur in multiple organ systems), these criteria are all commonly encompassed by research definitions of MCS. Nonetheless, their standardized use in clinical settings is still lacking, long overdue, and greatly needed--especially in light of government studies in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada that revealed 2-4 times as many cases of chemical sensitivity among Gulf War veterans than undeployed controls. In addition, state health department surveys of civilians in New Mexico and California showed that 2-6%, respectively, already had been diagnosed with MCS and that 16% of the civilians reported an "unusual sensitivity" to common everyday chemicals. Given this high prevalence, as well as the 1994 consensus of the American Lung Association, American Medical Association, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission that "complaints [of MCS] should not be dismissed as psychogenic, and a thorough workup is essential," we recommend that MCS be formally diagnosed--in addition to any other disorders that may be present--in all cases in which the 6 aforementioned consensus criteria are met and no single other organic disorder (e.g., mastocytosis) can account for all the signs and symptoms associated with chemical exposure. The millions of civilians and tens of thousands of Gulf War veterans who suffer from chemical sensitivity should not be kept waiting any longer for a standardized diagnosis while medical research continues to investigate the etiology of their signs and symptoms.

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