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Feeling physical pain while depressed. The effect of alexithymia


Background: In the literature, depression and alexithymia are associated with greater pain perception. It is unknown whether depression and alexithymia have additive effects on perceived pain. Methods: The present study examined 152 participants (96 women, 56 men). Participants completed the 20-item Toronto Alexithymia Scale, the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale, the Brief Pain Inventory, and the NEO Personality Inventory. There were 49 participants in the active phase of depression with either definite (n = 15) or no alexithymia (n = 34). One hundred three participants showed no depression with either definite (n = 14) or no alexithymia (n = 89). Results: Pain severity showed a small but significant relationship with alexithymia and depression. Pain was greater among without alexithymia individuals who were depressed and among with alexithymia individuals who were not depressed. Individuals with combined presence of depression and alexithymia did not report greater pain than participants with either condition alone. Alexithymia, depression, and pain were significantly correlated with greater neuroticism. Conclusions: We did not find a summative effect of depression and alexithymia on perceived pain. One interpretation of this result is that neuroticism (a shared personality factor in both depression and alexithymia) may be partially responsible for the effect on pain.