The Impact of Deployment and Combat Exposure on Physical Health Among Military Personnel: A Systematic Review of Incidence, Prevalence, and Risks

Alina E. Teplova, Heilwine A. H. M. Bakker, Sander I. B. Perry, Faridi S. van Etten-Jamaludin, Marie-Christine J. Plat, Margaretha B. M. Bekkers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)


OBJECTIVES: The impact of deployment and combat on mental health of military personnel is well described. Less evidence is available to demonstrate and summarize the incidence, prevalence, and risks of these exposures on physical health. This study aims to (1) systematically review the available literature to determine the incidence and prevalence of physical health conditions among military personnel during and after deployment and (2) investigate the risks of deployment and combat exposure on physical health. METHODS: A systematic review using the PubMed and EMBASE databases was performed. The literature search was limited to articles written in English, published from 2000 through 2019. The quality of studies was assessed with the Joanna Briggs Institute Appraisal Checklist. The results were grouped per system or condition of physical health and presented by forest plots without a combined effect size estimate. RESULTS: Thirty-two studies were found eligible for this review. We identified a wide variety of incidence and prevalence rates of numerous physical health conditions and a high heterogeneity across the included studies. Acute respiratory symptoms, diarrhea, musculoskeletal injuries, pain, and tinnitus were found to be the most incident or prevalent conditions. Except for hearing loss, no associations with deployment and physical health problems were observed. An increased risk for asthma, headache, hearing loss, and pain was reported in relation to the combat exposure. CONCLUSION: Given the characteristics of included studies and extracted data, the magnitude of the found differences in incidence and prevalence rates is most likely to be due to methodological heterogeneity. The specific exposures (e.g., infrastructure, environmental conditions, and activities during deployment) are suggested to be the determinants of (post) deployment physical health problems and need to be addressed to decrease the impact of deployment. Findings from this systematic review highlight which conditions should be addressed in response to service members' health and wellness needs in the (post)deployment phase and may be used by clinicians, researchers, and policy-makers. However, knowledge gaps regarding the potential risk factors during deployment and combat still exist. Studies using consistent methods to define and measure the physical health conditions and specific exposures are needed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e1074-e1085
JournalMilitary medicine
Issue number9-10
Publication statusPublished - 25 Aug 2022

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