Alexithymia Predicts Persistent Pain After Breast Surgery

Very interesting study that shows ‘Alexithymia’ was the only factor that predicted chronic pain 12 months after breast surgery. I call alexithymia the most important unknown word in chronic pain. It is significantly tied in with health issues in many studies. See my Youtube video here for more of the scientific research linking the two:

Alexithymia is the inability to identify and express emotions. 

In this particular study:

Alexithymia was a significant predictor of post-surgical pain at all 3 data points: 3, 6, and 12 months.

Anxiety was only a significant predictor of post-surgical pain at 3 months.

Body Image and Catastrophizing only predicted acute or subacute pain at 2 months.

Interestingly, Emotional Repression was not predictive of pain.

Conclusion from Authors:

“Breast surgery is a particularly suitable model for this purpose, because patients who undergo such surgery are generally pain-free before the intervention and have strong negative affects as a result of diagnosis announcement. Our results show that alexithymia, but not emotional repression, strongly predicted chronic pain for up to 12 months after surgery, independently of affective variables (anxiety, depression).”

“Alexithymia has been reported to be strongly associated with various somatic conditions, including breast cancer. It has been proposed that alexithymia contributes to the development of somatic diseases through a failure to regulate negative emotions. Patients are poorly able to link their feelings with accompanying body sensations, motor activity, or fantasies. Thus, the somatic sensation associated with emotional arousal might then be amplified and misinterpreted as symptoms of disease. In line with this hypothesis, alexithymia has been shown to be correlated with high baseline levels of sympathetic activity.”