Israelis run for cover from rocket attack
Israelis run for cover from rocket attackReuters

People who suffer with chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia require special attention during terror attacks and extended periods of rocket fire, according to a new study by Israeli researchers. Media exposure to the attacks predicted an increase in pain intensity and in the sensory component of pain during the pre-post war period, researchers said in an article published in a clinical journal this month. 

The findings came from a study entitled “Does War Hurt? Effects of Media Exposure After Missile Attacks on Chronic Pain” published this month in the Journal of Clinical Psychology in Medical Settings. The research was conducted by Drs. Golan Shahar, and Sheera F. Lerman at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev's Department of Psychology, and  Zvia Rudich of Soroka Medical Center – both in Be'er Sheva. Shahar is also associated with Yale University's Department of Psychiatry in New Haven, Connecticut.

People exposed to terrorism, either directly or indirectly, were found to experience higher levels of emotional distress, including symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression, researchers said in their findings.

In southern Israel, where rocket fire launched by Palestinian Authority terrorists in Gaza has been raining down on civilian communities for days, the findings have special significance. Some studies have estimated the levels of PTSD in southern Israeli communities to be as high as 85 to 90 percent of the general population.

Moreover, according to researchers at Tel Aviv University's Sackler Faculty of Medicine, the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center and the Carmel Medical Center, it is difficult to estimate the prevalence of fibromyalgia (FMS) in the general population because many cases are undiagnosed. But researchers found in a study published as a paper at the ACR Conference in November 2011 that in a community sample of 1019 individuals surveyed and then followed up with examinations, 3 percent of men and 7.1 percent of women were found to screen positive for the condition. Nearly 75 percent of those found to have fibromyalgia in Israel are women, the researchers said, adding that FMS “constitutes a significant health care issue.”

Symptoms of FMS include generalized pain of varying intensity, overwhelming fatigue, weakness, severe migraines, problems with the intestinal system, dizziness, cognitive issues sometimes referred to as “fibro fog” and more. Several members of a security firm tasked with monitoring a shopping mall and parking garage in downtown Be'er Sheva knew nothing about the condition, but were chagrined to learn about its effects the hard way on Monday.

"I had had a tough day,” admitted Chana Racheli, a local shopper. “My husband recently passed away, and things are still a bit on edge. While I was at a government office an hour earlier, there was a very stressful discussion going on. Once I came out, I found I could not locate my car.”

Racheli and her daughter spent more than an hour searching for the vehicle, but could not find it. Weakened to the point of near-collapse, she finally turned to the security desk.

"They had cameras on the entrances and I told them I thought it had been stolen and perhaps they could track it down through the cameras. I believed we had searched the entire garage,” she said. “My daughter thought so too.”

Unable to move, Racheli balked when security personnel suggested they search together with her one more time, explaining she was too weak to continue. They offered to call an ambulance, handed her into a chair and got her some water, but clearly were stymied by her behavior.

"They had no idea what was wrong with me,” she said. Instead, her daughter returned to the garage alone with the supervisor – and within 15 minutes, the car was located in a wing the two women had not noticed.

“It was full when we parked there, and the edge of it later appeared deserted when I looked again, so I ignored it,” she said. Although the security supervisor had initially been unwilling to give her his name, once the car was found, he did so with a grin, she added, obviously relieved the incident was over.

The link between fibromyalgia and PTSD is much stronger than many general doctors might realize, researchers indicate. In an Israeli study of male IDF veterans several years ago, half of those with combat-related PTSD also showed symptoms consistent with fibromyalgia. 

The findings were reported in Berlin at a meeting of the European League Against Rheumatism in 2004 and later further expanded in findings reported in the November 2006 edition of the Journal of Psychosomatic Research by Tel Aviv University researcher Howard Amital, MD.