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J Psychosom Res. 2010 Feb;68(2):139-47. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2009.07.015. Epub 2009 Nov 17.

Alexithymia, hypertension, and subclinical atherosclerosis in the general population.

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Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, University of Greifswald, Greifswald, Germany.



As a personality trait, alexithymia is assumed to present a longstanding risk factor for emotional dysregulation that also affects the autonomic nervous system. Therefore, we hypothesize that alexithymia is associated with hypertension and carotid atherosclerosis in the general population.


A total of 1168 subjects (age <65 years) from the Study of Health in Pomerania (SHIP) were eligible for complete case analyses. Alexithymia was assessed with the 20-item Toronto-Alexithymia-Scale (TAS-20). An extensive interview and physical examination were performed. Extracranial carotid arteries were examined bilaterally with B-mode ultrasonography. Regression models were adjusted for sociodemographic factors and classical risk factors for cardiovascular diseases and mental distress.


In the adjusted logistic regression models, alexithymia was significantly associated with hypertension (OR=1.60; 95% CI=1.14-2.25) and with atherosclerotic plaques (OR=1.70; 95% CI=1.14-2.54). Hypertension changed the effect of alexithymia on atherosclerosis only marginally (OR=1.76 to 1.70).


Alexithymia may represent a relevant and independent risk factor for hypertension and carotid atherosclerosis at the population level. None of the putative confounders mediated a relevant proportion of the risk. Prospective studies are needed to confirm this association.

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