Alexithymia is the inability to identify, understand, and express feelings. People with alexithymia tend to have a flat reaction to emotions, and can be hypersensitive to physical sensations-often attributing their emotions to a perceived physical problem. Anxiety sensitivity is similar in that it describes the fear of experiencing anxiety. People with anxiety sensitivity tend to attribute physical sensations, such as a rapid heartbeat or sweating, as a catastrophic physical problem. People who have experienced a traumatic brain injury are more likely to exhibit alexithymia and anxiety sensitivity than people who haven't.
Some people who experience a mild traumatic brain injury will show signs of post-concussion syndrome (PCS), a set of symptoms that persist long after the injury. Researchers have investigated reasons why some people experience a full recovery and others develop PCS, but there are no clear answers.
A recent study investigated the occurrence of alexithymia and anxiety sensitivity as a predictor for developing PCS after a traumatic brain injury. It was found that having high anxiety sensitivity and alexithymia scores were associated with a greater number of PCS symptoms and overall distress.
Alexithymia and anxiety sensitivity may therefore be involved in PCS susceptibility after mild traumatic brain injury. An assessment of both may be useful in early intervention of PCS.
Wood RLI, O'Hagan G, Williams C, et al. Anxiety sensitivity and alexithymia as mediators of postconcussion syndrome following mild traumatic brain injury. Journal of Head Trauma Rehabilitation. (February 2014).