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Louisiana doctor describes clusters of ailments among Gulf residents

By Kim Hutcherson, CNN
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Gulf residents suffer severe illnesses
  • Dozens of patients are suffering similarly, Dr. Robichaux says
  • "There's no question" ailments are connected to oil exposure, says doctor
  • Memory loss, pulmonary, gastrointestinal problems are among the symptoms suffered

(CNN) -- Some Gulf Coast residents and former clean-up workers are suffering from an array of mysterious illnesses, according to a Louisiana physician who has treated dozens of patients complaining of similar symptoms.

"I'm dealing with a wide array of people and the symptoms are almost identical in all of them," Dr. Mike Robichaux, an ear, nose and throat doctor based in Raceland, Louisiana, told CNN's Natalie Allen.

"What's been really unique about it is that patients have come in with a severe amount of memory loss. Very high blood pressure -- blood pressures that are going sky high and then coming down to normal, and then blood sugar levels that are fluctuating. Lastly would be some pulmonary problems and some fairly serious (gastrointestinal) problems."

The doctor said he's treated about 60 patients suffering from some combination of these symptoms but believes many more are suffering.

Robichaux said "there's no question" that these health difficulties are caused by contact with oil and dispersant. "The only question is what (is) in this soup of materials is causing the problems," he said. "Some (people) have been exposed to all of these chemicals, some only a few, some for long periods of time, some for not very long."

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He discussed the case of a 27-year-old man who suffers abdominal pain so severe he must take morphine to relieve it. The man also has debilitating headaches and severe memory loss, but for months had no idea what was causing his symptoms. Robichaux said this experience was "typical" of a subset of patients he sees.

He said the health problems he sees get very little national attention. "There hasn't been a single article on health issues," he said. "They'll talk about the pelicans and shorebirds, the crawfish, the crabs, the shrimp and so forth ... and there's nothing on human impact."

The April 20, 2010 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon led to the worst oil spill in U.S. history, with more than 200 million gallons of oil released into the Gulf. Hundreds of thousands of gallons of chemical dispersant went into the water as well. At its peak of the crisis, in June 2010, 37% of Gulf waters, or 88,522 square miles, were closed to fishing.