In a recent study published in Clinical Rheumatology, researchers sought to gain more information with regard to the long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the self-reported physical and mental health of individuals with IRDs. They also aimed to determine if these effects varied between types of IRD types, among the two genders, and across age groups.

The researchers conducted a cross-sectional survey and gathered data from the rheumatology electronic health care record “DIAgnostic and MONitoring Database (DIAMOND)” at Midlands Partnership NHS Foundation Trust.

In August 2021, researchers randomly selected 2,024 patients with IRDs and asked them to complete the survey, and a total of 639 patients responded and completed the survey. Arthritis assessment was accomplished using the Musculoskeletal Health Questionnaire, and patients were questioned about the state of their symptoms compared with the time before the pandemic.

The majority of participants (444 [70%]) reported having rheumatoid arthritis (RA), with 100 (15.8%) reporting psoriatic arthritis, 21 (3.3%) axial spondyloarthropathy, and 13 (2.1%) systemic lupus erythematosus.

Mental health symptoms were assessed employing the Patient Health Questionnaire-8 (PHQ8) and Generalized Anxiety Disorder-7 (GAD7). In addition, patients were asked to report their loneliness score and the effect of the pandemic on various lifestyle factors, including alcohol and tobacco consumption, weight, and physical exercise.

The results revealed that 250 patients (41%) reported moderate or severe impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic on physical health. Additionally, 241 (39%) reported moderate or severe effects on mental health. With regard to depression and anxiety, 172 (29%) participants reported moderate/severe depression (PHQ8 ≥10), and 135 (22%) reported having moderate/severe anxiety (GAD7 ≥10). Females also reported greater impacts of the pandemic on physical health (44% vs. 34%), mental health (44% vs. 34%), arthritis symptoms (49% vs. 36%), and lifestyle factors (weight gain and diminished exercise and physical activity) than males. The authors also noted that both the physical and mental impacts were less in those with RA compared with the other IRDs. Moreover, younger patients were more likely to report more significant effects on mental health.

Based on their findings, the authors wrote, “This survey, which represents one of the first analyses of the longer-term impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, demonstrates a marked impact on the longer-term physical and mental health of people with IRDs, with 40% reporting that the pandemic had a moderate/severe impact on physical or mental health.”

The authors concluded, “In summary, this study highlights that the COVID-19 pandemic had a broad impact on physical and mental health, even after almost 18 months of onset, and this effect was highest in females. Awareness of the differential impact of the pandemic is important to facilitate on targeting of health messages to those in greatest need to avoid longer term negative health impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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