Is COVID-19 pushing your body towards lockdown?

By Sukanya Datta | Mumbai

Updated: 04 May, 2020 18:05 IST

Doctors, who are observing headaches and anxiety bouts thanks to the lockdown, point to the connection between aches and isolation

Life, as we knew it, has changed in various ways since the country went into lockdown on March 25. Those working from home are now juggling assignments and the dishes. Homemakers are labouring twice as hard. Late-night screen time to relax means some of us are waking up late, or not getting enough sleep at all.

Struggling to put together meals, a lot of us are resorting to quick junk food, or skipping them altogether, thanks to back-to-back video calls. The cleaning and the makeshift office set-up on the couch are translating to backaches, stiff necks and swollen ankles. And of course, if all of this wasn't enough, there's that nagging thought at the back of the head: when do we go back to our normal lives?

According to medical website Practo, tele-consultations on their platform have witnessed an average spike of over 100 per cent week-on-week since the lockdown kicked in. While around 53 per cent of GP e-consults were related to the Coronavirus, indigestion, body ache, eye problems and irregular periods are some of the many concerns that they have received.

Specialists tell us what is causing these ailments and how we can tide over the difficult times.

A trying period

One in every three consults that came from women was for gynaecology-related issues, like irregular periods, pregnancy complications, birth control techniques and miscarriage, the Practo report stated. Dr Surabhi Siddhartha, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist with Motherhood Hospital, Kharghar, says, "Irregular eating habits and lack of movement is leading to weight gain, thus creating hormonal imbalance. Stress owing to multiple reasons is increasing cortisol levels, which affects the flow of progesterone and affects the period cycle." She adds that there is a rise in unwanted pregnancy rates, too.
What to do: Try cardio workouts like zumba or aerobics and stick to a diet containing less oil and sugar. Dr Siddhartha also advocates respirating to contraception avoid unwanted pregnancies.

Digest that

Dr Roy Patankar, gastroenterologist and director, Zen Multispeciality Hospital, says he gets four to five patients daily, reporting problems like indigestion, acidity and constipation. "The most common issue right now is gastroesophageal reflux — when acid from the stomach refluxes into the food pipe. There is sour liquid in the mouth, a burning sensation behind the chest and bloating of the upper abdomen. This is caused by spicy food, inadequate activity, lying down immediately after meals and tension." Since vegetables are not available all the time, there is lack of fibre in our diets, leading to constipation, he adds.
What to do: "People are eating raw garlic, onion and lime every day, thinking that these prevent COVID-19. Since we are used to eating these items cooked, it's causing gas and acidity. Take these items in moderation," Dr Patankar advises, adding one should include fibres like oats and muesli in their diet. "Have a glass of water before and after each meal and squeeze in some exercise."

Eye on screen time

"I've seen a sudden surge in stress-related problems that affects the eye. I've encountered at least six patients in the past 20 days for uveitis, which implies inflammation in the middle layer of the eye. The common symptoms are pain, redness and blurring of vision," says Dr Nikhil Sardar, ophthalmologist, Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital. Among non-serious problems, people are reporting dryness in the eye — a direct effect of increased screen time, thanks to work from home and surge in social media and OTT platform usage.
What to do: "One can use lubricating eye drops in case of dry eyes. But if irritation persists for over 48 hours, contact your doctor," says Dr Sardar.

What a headache

As clichéd as it may sound, the current predicament is giving many people a headache. "What most people are facing now are primary headaches — which are either tension-induced or migraines," explains Dr Shirish M Hastak, regional director, neurology, stroke and neurocritical care, Global Hospital. Tension headaches, as the name suggests, are triggered by the stress we are all feeling now — be it emotional, work-related or financial — and the sedentary lifestyle. Altered sleep cycles or the lack of it also contributes to headaches, and can make one feel perpetually tired, shares Dr Joy Desai, director, neurology, Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre. "One of the common reasons for the human brain to feel sleepy in the day is if the restorative benefits of sleep have not been accrued at night. The brain is wired to sleep in synchrony with day and night. This phenomenon is called the circadian rhythm," he says. Increased work hours mean people are awake for hours beyond their usual routine, either on their phones or watching shows. This, combined with consumption of food beyond regular hours, disrupts the circadian rhythm. "We're sleeping later than usual. When we repeat this for two-three days, the brain realises it's sleep deprived and makes you feel tired even if you have slept for seven hours."
What to do: Doctors advise us to limit screen time, taking into consideration the exposure that occurs while we are working.

Don't back out

In the absence of help, most of us are struggling to broom, mop, cook, while managing office work. This labour, coupled with wrong sitting postures while slouching on the couch or lying on the bed, is leading to lower back and neck pains, along with giddiness, says Dr Chirag P Borana, orthopaedic and joint replacement surgeon, Apollo Spectra Hospital Mumbai. He adds that in the long-term, such practices can lead to cervical pain and arthritis.
What to do: "Some basic neck and back stretching exercises are a must to stay fit. Use a table and a chair for your WFH schedule, and ensure your back is upright," he suggests.

Mind matters

As is evident from the advice of most medical professionals in the story, the pandemic has had a lasting impact on mental health. According to Practo's report, mental health queries witnessed a 50 per cent surge during the lockdown, with the top concerns being loneliness, anxiety management, and panic attacks. Dr Sapna Bangar, head, Mpower-The Centre, says everyone reacts differently to anxiety and stress, and so symptoms may range from breathlessness, rapid heartbeats and headaches to insomnia, upset stomach, giddiness, etc. "Sometimes, it's difficult to realise this is related to stress, but this is your body asking you to slow down. Stress and anxiety can have long-term physical health consequences like cardiac problems, blood pressure, stroke, obesity, gastric issues, among other issues."
What to do: Dr Bangar suggests that you maintain a routine while working from home and tune out excessive news or social media. "Spend time with your family. Try to eat at home and follow a regular sleeping pattern. Practice deep breathing, yoga, mindfulness and take up a hobby."

Return of old woes

Although I was on a regular period cycle for a while, now it's irregular again. I hadn't experienced anxiety attacks but the uncertainty brought back palpitations. Increased work is keeping me up till 3 am, leading to acute indigestion.

Sanjana Sen, programme manager

A complete change

My personal life is now lived in the tiny window between work and house chores. I've been experiencing back aches and indigestion, apart from irritability due to being confined to a space for long. Settling into my room has changed my posture; exercise has caused tiredness instead. Since I never cooked daily, my appetite has gone awry, leading to painful cramps, indigestion and constipation.

Rishika Bhowmick, client servicing supervisor

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First Published: 04 May, 2020 09:03 IST

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