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Alexithymia, Cardiovascular Reactivity, and Symptom Reporting During Blood Donation

Byrne, Nelson BSc; Ditto, Blaine PhD

doi: 10.1097/01.psy.0000160471.66399.12
Original Articles

Objective: With blood donation serving as a naturalistic stressor and a controlled medical event, the aim of this study was to examine emotional and cardiovascular reactivity, self-report of vasovagal symptoms, and perceived pain as a function of scores on the Toronto Alexithymia Scale (TAS-20).

Method: Healthy young adult blood donors (N = 610) recruited at mobile blood collection clinics completed the TAS-20, pre- and postdonation measures of anxiety, postdonation measures of pain and vasovagal symptoms, and had their blood pressure and heart rate measured before and after giving blood.

Results: Alexithymia score was positively associated with reported anxiety, pain, and vasovagal symptoms. Higher alexithymia was also associated with greater increases in predonation systolic blood pressure in anticipation of blood donation. In general, women and less experienced blood donors reported more vasovagal symptoms than men and more experienced donors, and this corresponded to higher rates of treatment by the nurses, more fainting, and fewer full units of blood obtained. However, despite more reports of vasovagal symptoms by alexithymic donors, alexithymia score was not related to these variables.

Conclusions: The results suggest that individuals with higher alexithymia scores were more anxious in the blood donation setting and more prone to report physical symptoms in the absence of a clear difference in the medical outcome of the blood donation procedure.

BDRI = Blood Donation Reactions Inventory; DBP = diastolic blood pressure; GLM = general linear model; HR = heart rate; SBP = systolic blood pressure; STAI = Spielberger State-Anxiety Scale; TAS-20 = Toronto Alexithymia Scale.

From the Department of Psychology, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Address correspondence and reprint requests to Blaine Ditto, PhD, Department of Psychology, McGill University, 1205 Dr. Penfield Ave., Montreal, QC H3A 1B1 Canada. E-mail:

Received for publication November 25, 2003; revision received December 22, 2004.

This research was supported by grants from the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Quebec and the Fonds de la Recherche en Santé du Québec.

Copyright © 2005 by American Psychosomatic Society
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