Alexithymia in Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Dr. Kemal SAYAR, Dr. Mustafa SOLMAZ, Dr. Sinan TRABLUS, Dr. Mücahit ÖZTÜRK, Dr. Burçin ACAR
2000; 11(3): 190-197


Objective: Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is one of the most frequent diagnosis in gastroenterology clinics and is frequently accompanied by a comorbid psychiatric disorder. Depression, anxiety and somatization are the most common disorders found. Diagnosis of this syndrome is generally made when no apparent organic, anatomical or underlying physiological cause for the symptoms can be identified. Although alexithymia was defined as a personality trait in psychosomatic patients, there is paucity of data on the prevalence of alexithymia in IBS. The aim of this study was to assess the prevalence of alexithymia in IBS patients by comparing with a healthy control group.

Method: Twenty-eight patients referred to the gastroenterology outpatient clinics of a general hospital and 20 age, sex and education matched controls were compared in terms of measures of alexithymia, depression and anxiety symptoms with the aid of self-report scales.

Results: IBS patients scored significantly higher than healthy controls on the measures of alexithymia, depression and anxiety. The total alexithymia score was not related to anxiety or depression. Subscale analysis of the Toronto Alexithymia Scale revealed that IBS patients have greater difficulty than healthy controls in identifying feelings and bodily sensations and expressing their feelings as well as in day dreaming.

Conclusion: Depression and anxiety symptoms are prevalent in IBS. Alexithymia is also revealed to be a significant personality trait of IBS patients. Difficulty in identifying and communicating feelings may predispose IBS patients to somatization and hypochondriasis. It is well documented that greater psychopathology accounts for the illness behavior in IBS patients. It may be speculated that alexithymia contributes to the amplification of bodily sensations in irritable bowel syndrome.

Keywords:  irritable bowel syndrome, alexithymia, depression, anxiety