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Alexithymia in eating disorders: therapeutic implications

Authors Pinna F, Sanna L, Carpiniello B

Received 2 October 2014

Accepted for publication 11 November 2014

Published 22 December 2014 Volume 2015:8 Pages 1—15

DOI https://doi.org/10.2147/PRBM.S52656

Checked for plagiarism Yes

Review by Single-blind

Peer reviewer comments 2

Editor who approved publication: Professor Igor Elman


Federica Pinna, Lucia Sanna, Bernardo Carpiniello

Department of Public Health, Clinical and Molecular Medicine - Unit of Psychiatry, University of Cagliari, Cagliari, Italy

Abstract: A high percentage of individuals affected by eating disorders (ED) achieve incomplete recovery following treatment. In an attempt to improve treatment outcome, it is crucial that predictors of outcome are identified, and personalized care approaches established in line with new treatment targets, thus facilitating patient access to evidence-based treatments. Among the psychological factors proposed as predictors of outcome in ED, alexithymia is of outstanding interest. The objective of this paper is to undertake a systematic review of the literature relating to alexithymia, specifically in terms of the implications for treatment of ED. In particular, issues concerning the role of alexithymia as a predictor of outcome and as a factor to be taken into account in the choice of treatment will be addressed. The effect of treatments on alexithymia will also be considered. A search of all relevant literature published in English using PubMed, PsycINFO, and Scopus databases was carried out on the basis of the following keywords: alexithymia, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, eating disorders, and treatment; no time limits were imposed. Despite the clinical relevance of alexithymia, the number of studies published on the above cited aspects is somewhat limited, and these studies are largely heterogeneous and feature significant methodological weaknesses. Overall, data currently available mostly correlate higher levels of alexithymia with a less favorable outcome in ED. Accordingly, alexithymia is seen as a relevant treatment target with the aim of achieving recovery of these patients. Treatments focusing on improving alexithymic traits, and specifically those targeting emotions, seem to show greater efficacy, although alexithymia levels often remain high even after specific treatment. Further investigations are needed to overcome the methodological limitations of previous studies, to understand the actual impact of alexithymia on ED outcome, and to allow more precise implications for treatment to be drawn. Additional research should also be undertaken to specify which of the alexithymic dimensions are specifically relevant to the course and outcome of ED, and to identify treatment protocols producing a significantly greater efficacy in ED patients with relevant alexithymic traits.

Keywords: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, treatment


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