Background: Although the alexithymia construct was derived from observations of patients with classical psychosomatic diseases, empirical studies have found only a moderate association between alexithymia and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Indeed, there is some evidence that alexithymia may be associated more strongly with functional somatic symptoms than with the psychosomatic diseases. The present study examined the relationship between alexithymia and functional gastrointestinal disorders (FGIDs) in a group of 121 FGID patients, and compared the results with findings from a group of 116 IBD patients and a group of 112 healthy subjects. Method: The subjects completed the 20-item Toronto Alexithymia Scale and the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale. Results: The FGID group was significantly more alexithymic than the IBD group, and the two gastrointestinal groups were more alexithymic than the normal healthy group. These differences remained even after controlling for the influence of education, gender, anxiety, depression and gastrointestinal symptoms. Conclusions: The finding of a high rate of alexithymia (66%) in the group of FGID patients is consistent with the propensity of these patients to somatization and to high levels of poorly differentiated psychological distress.

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