The terrorist rocket bombings from Gaza on Sderot last year significantly increased the risk of miscarriages among couples in the development town, according to a new study published in the Psychosomatic Medicine Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine.
In an article by Dr. Tamar Wainstock, Dr. Liat Lerner- Geva, Saralee Glasser, Dr. Ilana Shoham-Vardi and Dr. Eyal Anteby of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon, the Gertner Institute at Tel Hashomer and Tel Aviv University, it was shown that women exposed before conception and during pregnancy to the bombings were more likely to lose their fetuses than women in other locations who were not exposed to the attacks.
The team compared 1,341 pregnancies of women (exposed group) who resided in Sderot with 2,143 pregnancies of women who lived in Kiryat Gat (unexposed group), which was out of range of the missiles. Among women residing in the exposed town, the number of weekly alarms during the six months before conception was 2.2 (with a range of 0 to 15.3). During pregnancy, the mean weekly alarm rate was 3.5 with a range of 0 to 31.
The study found that exposure to rocket attacks increased the risk of spontaneous abortion by 59 percent, compared to women not experiencing this stress during or before pregnancy (6% in Sderot, compared with 4.7% in Kiryat Gat).
Sderot has been a constant target of rocket firing from the Gaza Strip since 2001, the authors wrote. The rocket attacks are preceded by a warning alarm that informs residents to seek shelter. These alarms are loud, sudden as well as stress inducing because they are sounded only few seconds before the rocket hits the town. Between April 2001 and December 2008, more than 1,000 alarms were sounded in or near Sderot – 500 during 2008 alone. Rockets fell and exploded within the town, killing residents and causing property damage.
The researchers also found that among the residents of Sderot those with both the lowest and highest level of exposure to rocket alarms during pregnancy had higher risk for miscarriage than those with intermediate exposure.
Researchers suggested that this finding might be explained by the release of cortisol, a known stress hormone, the authors wrote.
“However, as the number of alarms intensified, the risk was elevated again possibly with increased cortisol level, or alternatively, with reduced cortisol level, as found in post-traumatic stress disorders, which itself may increase the risk for adverse pregnancy outcomes.”
They noted that psychological stress has been associated with decreased fertility in men, as expressed by low sperm quality in stressful occupational settings and under stress associated with war. Decreased male fertility has also been associated with early pregnancy loss. they continued. Because in the new study population, both men and women were exposed, it is possible that exposure by the fathers to stress combined with with the mothers’ stress before conception as well as during pregnancy.