Background: Endometriosis is a chronic pain condition in premenopausal women. Pain is mainly characterized by pain intensity and may induce disability in all areas of daily life. Nevertheless, pain is influenced by emotional and social factors as well. Social distancing measures or quarantine, as reaction to rapidly rising infections with the COVID-19 virus due to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, were implemented across Europe to prevent the spread of the virus and social distancing measures were imposed by the German government by beginning of March 2020 with initiation of the lockdown by the end of March 2020. The objective of this study was to assess, how social distancing measures during the lockdown impacted the various aspects of pain perception in a group of chronic pain patients, such as women suffering from endometriosis.
Methods: Between 6th to 27th April 2020, an online questionnaire was activated at internet platforms of endometriosis patients support groups. Participants were asked retrospectively at one time point about their visual pain intensity measured by the visual analogue scale (VAS) and pain disability via pain disability index (PDI) prior to initiation of social distancing measures in Germany (VASP, PDIP), as well as the pain intensity and pain disability since implementation of social distancing measures (VASI, PDII). Differences of VAS and PDI previous and after implementation of social distancing measures were displayed as ΔVAS and ΔPDI. Pain experience and social support were assessed by a 5-point Likert scale.
Results: 285 participants completed at least one question regarding pain intensity, disability, pain experience or social support. Dysmenorrhea, the symptom with the highest level of pain assessed by VAS, decreased significantly during the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic compared to the time period prior to social isolation (45.30% respondents experienced improvemenet vs 40.50% who experienced worsening; p = 0.025). The global physical impairment improved significantly (improvement of pain induced disability in 48.20% vs 40.90% with worsening of pain symptoms; p = 0.032) after the implementation of social distancing measures. Pain experience was negatively affected by social distancing measures, since frequency of pain awareness increased in 43.6% (p<0.001) of participants and 30.0% (p<0.001) more participants experienced pain as a threat. Verbalization of pain experience was reduced in 36.6% (p = 0.001) of participants and 14.6% (p = 0.91), 21.9% (p<0.001) and 31.5% (p<0.001) of participants reported less social support from their partner, family and friends.
Conclusions: Physical pain and disability on one hand and emotional and social pain experience on the other were differentially affected by the emerged emotional, social and health care constraints related to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.