Background: Alexithymia, a deficit in emotional information processing, and
a history of head injury have both been found to be related to high rates
of psychosomatic illness, substance abuse, depression, and utilization of p
rimary care services. To date, no study has examined the potential comorbid
ity of alexithymia and head injury in a family practice setting, a necessar
y step in evaluating the aetiologic role of head injury in the development
of alexithymia. The goals of this study are to establish prevalence of head
injury and alexithymia in a family practice setting and to evaluate the re
lation, if present, between the two.
Methods: Patients (n = 135) of a family practice residency facility were sc
reened using the Traumatic Brain Injury Questionnaire and the Toronto Alexi
Results: Forty-nine per cent of the participants reported a history of head
injury and 18% were alexithymic. Those with a history of head injury had s
ignificantly higher scores of alexithymia. Chi-square analysis indicated a
relation between head injury and alexithymia.
Conclusions: The high rates of self-reported history of head injury in fami
ly practice settings, particularly in the context of alexithymia, may adver
sely affect a physician's ability to care for these patients. Increasing ph
ysicians' awareness of head injury and the potential mediating role of alex
ithymia in medical and psychological illness may facilitate effective diagn
osis and patient-physician communication.