Emerging evidence suggests that people with arthritis are reporting increased physical pain and psychological distress during COVID-19. At the same time, Twitter’s daily usage has surged by 23% throughout COVID-19, presenting a unique opportunity to assess the content and sentiment of tweets. Individuals with arthritis use Twitter to communicate with peers, and to receive up-to-date information from health professionals and services about novel therapies and management techniques.
The aim of this research was to identify proxy topics of importance for individuals with arthritis during the COVID-19 pandemic, and to explore the emotional context of tweets by people with arthritis during the early phase of the pandemic.
Publicly available tweets posted in English and with hashtag combinations related to arthritis and COVID-19 were extracted retrospectively in Twitter from March 20-April 20, 2020. Content analysis was used to identify common themes within tweets, and sentiment analysis was used to examine themes for positive and/or negative emotion to facilitate interpretation of COVID-19 experiences of people with arthritis.
One hundred and forty nine tweets were analysed. The majority of tweeters were female and from the United States. Tweeters reported a range of arthritis conditions including rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus, and psoriatic arthritis. Seven themes were identified: healthcare experiences, personal stories, links to relevant blogs, discussion of arthritis-related symptoms, advice sharing, messages of positivity, and stay-at-home messaging. Sentiment analysis demonstrated marked anxiety around medication shortages, increased physical symptom burden, and strong desire for trustworthy information and emotional connection.
Tweets by people with arthritis highlight the multitude of concurrent concerns during COVID-19. Understanding these concerns, which include heightened physical and psychological symptoms on a background of treatment misinformation, may assist clinicians to provide person-centred care during this time of great health uncertainty.