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Anxiety and Pain of Fibromyalgia Patients during the COVID-19 Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has been tough on everyone, with early research indicating an increase in anxiety in the general population. But what effect has the pandemic had specifically on fibromyalgia? A group of researchers led by Anna Kharko from the University of Plymouth investigated just that. They had two main questions:
  • Has the COVID-19 pandemic become a source of anxiety?
  • If so, how is that COVID-19 anxiety connected to fibromyalgia pain?

The study recruited 58 participants with the help of Fibromyalgia Action UK, among other chronic pain non-profit organisations. For 10 days, participants completed an online survey, asking what, if any, aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic evoked feelings of anxiety. They then rated how strong that anxiety was alongside of their fibromyalgia pain.

They found that indeed all participants reported feeling anxious about the pandemic. Most often, participants pointed to being worried about:
  1. The impact the pandemic will have on their personal relationships (friendships, romantic, family, or other)
  2. The possibility of a family member contracting COVID-19
  3. Financial hardships as a result of the pandemic
Interestingly, the same categories did not necessarily evoke the strongest feelings of anxiety. When rating anxiety on a 0 to 100 scale, where 0 is no anxiety and 100 is the strongest possible anxiety, participants pointed to the following as the most worrisome:
  1. Financial hardships as a result of the pandemic (average rating of 64)
  2. Access to medication during the pandemic (average rating of 64)
  3. Home loss or eviction as a result of the pandemic (average rating of 62)
Most importantly, the researchers found that an increase in COVID-19 anxiety was associated with an increase in reported pain levels. The authors emphasised, however, that this does not imply that COVID-19 anxiety caused fibromyalgia pain.
The study demonstrates that mental health in fibromyalgia can be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. But beyond being present, anxiety may be directly related to worsening pain. 
The study also highlights what aspects of the pandemic are likely to evoke stronger concerns and thereby provides guidance for where to focus patient support. 
Important: These results are based on a preprint publication that is yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal. 
The full article can be found here:
Kharko, A. Y., Hansford, K. J., Furlong, P. L., Hall, S. D., & Roser, M. E. (2020). The Anxiety and Pain of Fibromyalgia Patients during the COVID-19 Pandemic. medRxiv.

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