TV news coverage makes painful viewing

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By Piriya Mahendra

Patients with existing chronic pain syndromes experience a significant increase in pain when they are exposed to media coverage of terrorist missile attacks, researchers say.

Sheera Lerman (Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel) and team's study showed that television exposure to the Operation Cast Lead military missile attacks in Israel predicted an increase in pain intensity and the sensory component of pain in chronic pain patients, but did not predict depression or anxiety.

Operation Cast Lead was an extensive military operation that took place in the Negev (Southern) region of Israel and lasted for 3 weeks, from December 27, 2008 to January 18, 2009. A large number of missiles were launched from the Gaza Strip; siren warnings of imminent attacks were heard regularly, and missiles fell into populated and unpopulated areas.

Throughout this time, the Israeli and foreign media broadcast news relating to the military operation 24 hours a day.

Regression analysis showed that media exposure was a significant predictor for increased sensory dimension of pain and pain intensity according to the Numerical Rating Scale of 0-100 (where a score of 100 corresponds to the worse pain imaginable).

However, media exposure did not significantly predict depression, anxiety, or the affective component of pain.

The study included 55 Israeli patients who were treated at a specialty pain clinic for chronic pain. Overall, 38 patients had low back and cervical radiculopathy, seven had idiopathic pain (musculoskeletal pain and headaches), and 10 had neuropathic pain.

All patients completed self-report questionnaires regarding their pain, depression, and anxiety before and after Operation Cast Lead.

The authors say that the media coverage of the attacks did not highlight the effects of the stress residents might have felt on their physical health, "which might have caused individuals with chronic health conditions to feel alone and isolated."

They conclude: "These findings contribute to the understanding of the effects of terrorism on physical and emotional distress and identify chronic pain patients as a vulnerable population requiring special attention during terrorism-related stress."

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