BACKGROUND: Hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) is a rare, chronic, inflammatory skin disease characterized by deep-seated nodules, abscesses, and draining fistulas. HS has a substantial adverse impact on patients' lives. Only a few studies investigated the relationship between health-related quality of life, psychological distress, and emotional dysregulation in patients with HS. Alexithymia, namely the difficulty in describing or recognizing emotions, has been associated with various psychological disorders, such as anxiety, depression, and psychological distress.
OBJECTIVE: The aim of this study was to examine the prevalence of alexithymia in patients with HS and its association with demographic and clinical variables, quality of life indices, and psychological distress.
METHODS: Ninety outpatients with HS completed the 20-item Toronto Alexithymia Scale, the 12-item General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12), the Dermatology Life Quality Index, the Skindex-17, and the 36-Item Short-Form Health Survey. Information on sociodemographic and clinical variables was retrieved from clinical records.
RESULTS: Alexithymia or borderline alexithymia was observed in 44.4% of patients with HS, with a higher prevalence of the alexithymic trait in women than in men (51.7 vs. 31.2%). We did not find any association between alexithymia and clinical variables. Of the entire sample analyzed, 46.1% reported high psychological distress; among them, 78% reported alexithymia or borderline alexithymia compared to 16.7% among GHQ noncases. Furthermore, HS patients with alexithymia or borderline alexithymia showed significantly higher scores on the Skindex-17 psychosocial scale and the Dermatology Life Quality Index, and a lower score on the mental component of the 36-item Short-Form Health Survey, than nonalexithymic patients.
CONCLUSIONS: Dermatologists should consider alexithymia in the diagnosis and treatment of HS patients, given its important role in psychological and psychosocial distress.