The impact of alexithymia on asthma patient management and communication with health care providers: a pilot study

Kelly Chugg, Christopher Barton, Ral Antic, Alan Crockett
Journal of Asthma 2009, 46 (2): 126-9

BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVES: Alexithymia is a personality trait associated with difficulty identifying and verbalizing feelings. It has been associated with poorly controlled asthma and near-fatal asthma. The primary objectives were to (1) determine the prevalence of alexithymia in a group of moderate to severe asthmatics who attended an Outpatient Clinic; and (2) investigate the relationship between alexithymia and asthma control, management, and communication.

METHODS: Twenty-five moderate to severe asthma patients were recruited from the Royal Adelaide Hospital Outpatient Respiratory Clinic. Participants were either mailed the questionnaire pack or completed it after a clinic appointment. Existing validated questionnaires were used to collect data. The primary outcome measures were alexithymia, asthma control, adherence to medication; patient satisfaction with communication with health care providers and health-related quality of life. Data were analyzed using Pearson correlations, linear regression and analysis of variance (ANOVA) in SPSS. A p value <or= 0.05 was required for statistical significance.

RESULTS: A total of 11 male (44%) and 14 female (56%) patients with moderate to severe persistent asthma (mean age 44 years +/- 11) participated. Alexithymia scores ranged between 23.0-76.0 (x = 48.3, SD = 13.2); 12% of participants reported high alexithymia scores, 32% reported borderline alexithymia scores, and 56% reported low alexithymia scores. Alexithymia mean scores were not statistically different across sociodemographic variables. A higher alexithymia score was associated with worse asthma control score (r = 0.57, p < 0.01) (where higher asthma control scores indicate worse asthma control); poor adherence (p = 0.03), and worse quality of life (r = - 0.65, p < 0.01). Alexithymia score was not correlated with satisfaction with communication (r = - 0.27, p = 0.2).), or the number of hospitalizations for asthma (p = 0.25).

CONCLUSIONS: This is the first study to investigate relationships between alexithymia, asthma control, asthma management and communication with health care professionals. The study reaffirms associations between alexithymia and asthma control, but a larger sample size is needed to determine the impact of alexithymia on self-management and provision of clinical care for asthma.

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