Alexithymia is associated with greater risk of chronic pain and negative affect and with lower life satisfaction in a general population: The Hisayama study

Mao Shibata, Toshiharu Ninomiya, Mark P. Jensen, Kozo Anno, Koji Yonemoto, Seiko Makino, Rie Iwaki, Koji Yamashiro, Toshiyuki Yoshida, Yuko Imada, Chiharu Kubo, Yutaka Kiyohara, Nobuyuki Sudo, Masako Hosoi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Introduction: Chronic pain is a significant health problem worldwide, with a prevalence in the general population of approximately 40%. Alexithymia - the personality trait of having difficulties with emotional awareness and self-regulation - has been reported to contribute to an increased risk of several chronic diseases and health conditions, and limited research indicates a potential role for alexithymia in the development and maintenance of chronic pain. However, no study has yet examined the associations between alexithymia and chronic pain in the general population. Methods: We administered measures assessing alexithymia, pain, disability, anxiety, depression, and life satisfaction to 927 adults in Hisayama, Japan. We classified the participants into four groups (low-normal alexithymia, middle-normal alexithymia, high-normal alexithymia, and alexithymic) based on their responses to the alexithymia measure. We calculated the risk estimates for the criterion measures by a logistic regression analysis. Results: Controlling for demographic variables, the odds ratio (OR) for having chronic pain was significantly higher in the high-normal (OR: 1.49, 95% CI: 1.07-2.09) and alexithymic groups (OR: 2.56, 95% CI: 1.47-4.45) compared to the low-normal group. Approximately 40% of the participants belonged to these two high-risk groups. In the subanalyses of the 439 participants with chronic pain, the levels of pain intensity, disability, depression, and anxiety were significantly increased and the degree of life satisfaction was decreased with elevating alexithymia categories. Conclusions: The findings demonstrate that, in the general population, higher levels of alexithymia are associated with a higher risk of having chronic pain. The early identification and treatment of alexithymia and negative affect may be beneficial in preventing chronic pain and reducing the clinical and economic burdens of chronic pain. Further research is needed to determine if this association is due to a causal effect of alexithymia on the prevalence and severity of chronic pain.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere90984
JournalPloS one
Volume9
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Mar 12 2014

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)
  • General

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