Alexithymia in adolescents with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – Source: Journal of Psychosomatic Research, Oct 2007

[Note: Alexithymia has been characterized as “a personality trait” involving difficulty identifying, describing, and working with emotional states in self and others. It is found in anywhere from 5 to 13 percent of the general population according to different studies, varies in severity from person to person, frequently co-occurs with disorders such as autistic spectrum disorders and anorexia, and reduces likelihood of response to conventional treatments for other conditions.]

Background: Alexithymia is postulated as an important factor in the development of medically unexplained physical symptoms. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is presently medically unexplained. The aim of this study was to investigate whether the prevalence of alexithymia was higher in adolescents with CFS compared to healthy adolescents.

Comorbidity such as anxiety and depression were analyzed as possible confounding factors. Secondly, alexithymia was investigated as a prognostic factor for the recovery of CFS.

Methods: A cross-sectional study was performed among 40 adolescent outpatients diagnosed with CFS and 36 healthy controls.

The 20-item Toronto Alexithymia Scale [TAS-20] was used to assess all participants for alexithymia. Additionally, all participants completed a number of questionnaires regarding fatigue (Checklist Individual Strength), somatic complaints (Checklist Somatization Inventory), depression (Children’s Depression Inventory), and trait anxiety (Spielberger State Trait Anxiety Questionnaire). A follow-up study was performed among the CFS adolescents 1-1/2 years after the initial assessment.

Results: CFS adolescents scored higher only on the subscale identifying feelings of the TAS-20 [mean difference after adjustment for depression and anxiety 2.8 (95% CI: 0.6; 4.9]. Twelve CFS adolescents (30%) fulfilled criteria for alexithymia. This subgroup was characterized by higher scores for depression and anxiety and equal scores for fatigue and somatic complaints.

At follow-up, no differences in recovery were established between the alexithymic and nonalexithymic CFS adolescents.

Conclusions: Alexithymia neither appears to be a unique correlate of CFS nor to be a prognostic factor for recovery of the CFS illness.

Source: Journal of Psychosomatic Research. 2007 Oct;63(4):377-80. PMID: 17905045, by van de Putte EM, Engelbert RH, Kuis W, Kimpen JL, Uiterwaal CS. Department of Pediatrics, Wilhelmina Children’s Hospital, University Medical Center Utrecht; The Netherlands.

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