Published:  2004-08-01

Alexithymia predicts attenuated autonomic reactivity, but prolonged recovery to anger recall in young women

Authors:  Serina A Neumann, John J Sollers, Julian F Thayer, Shari R Waldstein

Tags:  Alexithymia, Autonomic reactivity, Heart rate variability, Impedance cardiography, Recovery

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Alexithymia has been prospectively associated with all-cause mortality and with cardiovascular morbidity. Here, stress-induced autonomic reactivity and recovery were examined as potential pathways linking alexithymia to cardiovascular disease. The relation of alexithymia to blood pressure, heart rate, and other cardiovascular parameters derived from impedance cardiography (N=80) and heart rate variability (N=40) was evaluated during rest, an anger recall task and recovery in women (ages 18–30). During anger recall, alexithymia was associated with significantly attenuated heart rate and stroke index reactivity, greater low frequency power, and with marginally dampened blood pressure and high frequency power reactivity. Overall, this response pattern suggests blunted sympathetic activation and diminished vagal withdrawal. Alexithymia was also related to slower diastolic blood pressure and quicker preejection period recovery implying abbreviated sympathetic arousal and possibly greater vagal modulation. These results impart some evidence for the hypoarousal model of alexithymia during reactivity, but the hyperarousal model during recovery. Autonomic dysregulation during and following acute emotional stress is suggested as a possible physiological pathway connecting alexithymia to cardiovascular disease.