Cognitive impairment and cardiovascular disease related to alexithymia in a well-controlled HIV-infected population

Nicoletta Ciccarelli, Eleonora Baldonero, Benedetta Milanini, Massimiliano Fabbiani, Roberto Cauda, Simona Di Giambenedetto, Maria Caterina Silveri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Both cognitive diseases and alexithymia may be associated with HIV. Moreover, alexithymia has been linked to cardiovascular (CV) diseases. Our aim was to explore the prevalence of alexithymia and its associations with neurocognitive disorders (HAND) and CV risk factors in a well-controlled HIV-positive population. We consecutively enrolled 140 HIV-positive individuals on antiretroviral therapy and 35 healthy subjects matched for age, education and gender. In all participants alexithymia was explored by the 20-item Toronto Alexithymia Scale. For HIV-positive subjects also data about CV risk factors were collected, and a comprehensive neuropsychological examination was administered; HAND was defined according to Frascati criteria. Patients and controls did not differ in the proportion of alexithymic status (10% vs. 11%; p=0.761). Among HIV-positive patients, alexithymic participants presented a higher prevalence of diabetes (21% vs. 3%, p=0.035) and hypertension (36% vs. 13%, p= 0.037) compared to non-alexithymic. About 30% (n=41) of HIV-positive patients met criteria for asymptomatic HAND. Alexithymia was not independently associated with a higher risk of HAND (p=0.189). Analyzing each cognitive domain, alexithymia showed an independent association with an abnormal performance (OR 1.08; p=0.037) only in psychomotor speed. In conclusion, in the context of a well-controlled HIV infection, we found a low prevalence of alexithymia comparable to healthy controls. Alexithymia was linked to higher risk of CV disease in the HIV-positive population, but with a rate similar to that previously estimated in the HIV-negative alexithymic. Finally, alexithymia was clearly associated to cognitive impairment only in the psychomotor speed domain, suggesting a common fronto-striatal system dysregulation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)274-282
Number of pages9
JournalLe infezioni in medicina
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sep 1 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology (medical)
  • Infectious Diseases


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