Alexithymia and Cutaneous Disease Morbidity: A Systematic Review

Dermatology. 2022;238(6):1120-1129. doi: 10.1159/000524736. Epub 2022 May 30.

Abstract

Background: Alexithymia is a psychological construct that describes one's difficulty in understanding and describing their own emotions as well as differentiating feelings from bodily signals of arousal. In the general population, alexithymia's prevalence is approximately 10%. Alexithymia may act as a triggering factor for many medical and psychiatric disorders. In patients with physical disease, alexithymia's prevalence reaches up to 63%. Additionally, alexithymia is associated with worse outcomes and heightened psychosocial comorbidities.

Objective: This review continues where an earlier review (Willemsen, 2008) left off to (1) clarify alexithymia's prevalence in dermatology patients and (2) further investigate alexithymia's impact on disease burden, psychosocial comorbidities, and treatment.

Methods: Systematic searches on alexithymia and dermatologic conditions were conducted using PubMed, Embase, PsycInfo, and Web of Science databases from March 8, 2021, to March 12, 2021. Data from eligible publications, which were full-text, clinical studies published after September 1, 2008, and available in English, were extracted by two medical students and summarized.

Results: Despite a small number of publications (n = 37), data showed a markedly greater prevalence and severity of alexithymia in patients with alopecia, vitiligo, psoriasis, hidradenitis suppurativa, atopic dermatitis, chronic idiopathic urticaria, and primary focal hyperhidrosis compared to healthy controls. Further, data consistently demonstrate a complex interplay between alexithymia, disease burden, and psychosocial comorbidity.

Conclusions: Identifying and addressing alexithymia in dermatology patients may improve treatment outcomes, associated comorbidities, and health-related quality of life.

Keywords: Alexithymia; Emotional deficit; Psychocutaneous medicine; Psychodermatology; Quality of life.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Affective Symptoms* / epidemiology
  • Affective Symptoms* / psychology
  • Comorbidity
  • Humans
  • Prevalence
  • Psoriasis* / complications
  • Psoriasis* / epidemiology
  • Psoriasis* / psychology
  • Quality of Life