‘Feels like dying’: Israel leads the world in acknowledging the pain of chronic pain

Israel has just taken one of the boldest steps of any country in recognizing two debilitating medical conditions that have often been dismissed as the figment of patients’ imaginations.

Fibromyalgia causes widespread pain along with a host of other symptoms, and the Israel National Insurance Institute will now recognize it as a disability, an unusual step internationally. The Minister of Welfare and Social Affairs, Meir Cohen, announced on Tuesday that the approval of the recognition is complete.

In the final protocol just published by the National Insurance Institute, the rights extend to those with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), a related condition.

Beersheba, in southern Israel, is a renowned fibromyalgia research center because rockets from Gaza have caused high rates of the disease. Experts are convinced that Israel’s move will help achieve progress internationally.

“This is a pioneering development that will send a message encouraging other Western countries to do the same,” said rheumatologist Prof. Dan Buskila Beersheba’s Soroka University Medical Center and Ben Gurion University, a leading researcher on the condition.

“This is a breakthrough for a condition that does not have clear biomarkers and therefore attracts hostility from some in the medical community.”

Illustrative Image: A woman undergoes a medical exam for chronic muscle pain (Ivan-Balvan via iStock by Getty Images)

Hillel Abrahams’s story is typical of many Israelis who enthusiastically welcome Israel’s decision on fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. For many years he lived with severe muscle aches that no doctor could explain. He found many doctors unsympathetic. “When the disease does not fit their disease profile, they tell me that everything is in the head,” he recalled.

Hillel Abrahams (courtesy of Hillel Abrahams)

Now, he spends the day with the help of opioids and other drugs, after a diagnosis of chronic fatigue syndrome two years ago, and since some symptoms also mirror those of fibromyalgia, he hopes to have a diagnosis of both diseases soon.

He said Israel’s decision provides long-needed “validation” to people like him, who have at times been led to doubt the authenticity of their plight. The absence of clear physical symptoms confuses others and can arouse skepticism, he said.

“People can look normal for hours,” said Abrahams, father and grandfather of Beit Shemesh, near Jerusalem. “You can go out, do something, come back and be exhausted for hours and hours. It’s the kind of exhaustion that means you can’t even get out of bed.

“I can not think straight. I have brain fog and can forget names. There may be severe headaches and neck pain. Sometimes I feel like I’m dying. Sometimes I have felt that I was getting sicker and sicker. It is difficult to work because you cannot think clearly and you cannot do your job. It’s like having the worst possible case of the flu but without a fever. “

Abrahams believes that Israel’s move will help break the stigma that persists around chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and other illnesses that have no clear physical manifestations. “This provides recognition of pain that is so severe that you have no idea,” he said. “People think, ‘Oh, so-and-so didn’t want to go to work,’ but it’s actually very serious illnesses.”

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