Objective Gastrointestinal-specific anxiety (GSA) and alexithymia are two psychological constructs that may contribute to severity of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). We aimed to investigate their independent contribution in predicting the level of severity in a group of patients with moderate to severe IBS.
Method A sample of 177 consecutive IBS patients (49.2% with moderate and 50.8% with severe IBS), diagnosed with Rome III criteria, were evaluated for IBS symptoms, alexithymia, GSA, psychological distress, and psychosocial functioning with validated scales.
Results IBS severity was highly associated to both alexithymia (r = 0.61) and GSA (r = 0.66), that were also associated to each other (r = 0.64). Severe IBS patients scored significantly different than moderate IBS patients to all scales in the expected direction. Multiple and hierarchical regression analyses showed that IBS severity was predicted at a similar degree by alexithymia and GSA, controlled for IBS symptoms, psychological distress, and psychosocial functioning. Effect sizes showed that the highest IBS severity scores were obtained by patients with high alexithymia alone (d = 1.16) or combined with higher GSA (d = 1.45).
Conclusion Alexithymia and GSA were closely related to each other and associated to IBS severity, thus suggesting a common basis of emotional dysregulation. However, alexithymia (particularly the facets of difficulty identifying and describing feelings) resulted to be a stronger predictor of IBS severity than GSA, thus suggesting that impaired affective awareness may reflect on the clinical manifestations of IBS.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Psychiatry and Mental health
- Clinical Psychology