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Managing Mental Health During Coronavirus Rheumatoid Arthritis

Living through a pandemic isn’t easy for anyone, but trying to manage a chronic condition like inflammatory arthritis at the same time can be especially challenging. To learn about how arthritis patients are faring, researchers from the University of East Anglia in the UK have been administering online surveys to people who are enrolled in the Norfolk Arthritis Registry. A smaller subset of patients is also participating in telephone interviews.

The online surveys are being conducted at four weekly intervals, and final results are not yet available. But the researchers recently released an interim report, which highlights some key themes based on information gathered between April 28 and May 27, 2020.

Mental Health Struggles

According to these early findings, many patients with inflammatory arthritis have been experiencing an uptick in mental health struggles. Many respondents said they felt bored, isolated, or “fed up with life.” Others reported feeling anxious and worried about their ability to avoid getting sick or safely re-enter society.

Fatigue

Fatigue was a common problem, too: 42 percent of respondents said their energy levels had decreased. That change may be due to having to juggle more at home, lack of physical activity, or just overwhelming stress.

Arthritis Symptoms and Flares

Thirty-fine percent of respondents said that symptoms like pain and stiffness had increased; some were experiencing flares.

The authors suggested that health care providers would be wise to provide additional support for inflammatory arthritis patients during the pandemic.

“Health professionals should remain vigilant that lack of contact or failure to report symptoms might not mean that all is well,” they wrote. “Health concerns may not be reported due to postponed appointments and because many do not want to trouble health services at this time.”

The authors advised providers to reach out and keep patients informed about the various options to connect during this time, but warned that not every patient will be interested in a virtual visit. “Some  [patients] said that remote telephone appointments were not able to replicate in-person consultations, and they were not able to discuss their condition as readily over the phone,” the authors wrote. “A choice in consultation style may be appreciated — telephone consultations should be patient choice, rather than the norm.”

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Belderson P, et al. The impact of COVID-19 self-isolation measures on people with inflammatory arthritis: Interim briefing report for health professionals. University of East Anglia. June 28, 2020. http://www.uea.ac.uk/documents/9330206/9333495/2020+NOAR+COVID+Briefing+F.pdf.

How COVID-19 Lockdown Has Impacted People With Arthritis. University of East Anglia. July 10, 2020.
https://www.uea.ac.uk/about/-/how-covid-19-lockdown-has-impacted-people-with-arthritis.