Evidence suggests reduced sensitivity to pain due to high pain threshold in anorexia and bulimia nervosa and a possible role of depression, alexithymia and interoceptive awareness on pain experience. This study examined whether self-report and real-time evoked pain experience were mediated by depression, alexithymia and interoceptive awareness in a comprehensive sample of patients with eating disorders (ED).
145 participants (90 ED, 55 healthy controls (HC)) underwent a real-time evoked examination of pain and completed self-report questionnaires for pain (Pain Detect Questionnaire (PD-Q), PD-Q VAS, Leeds Assessment of Neuropathic Symptoms and Signs), depression (BDI-II), interoceptive awareness Multidimensional Assessment of Interoceptive Awareness (MAIA), and alexithymia (TAS-20). Three mediation models, with ED diagnosis as independent variable, and BDI, MAIA and TAS-20 as mediators, were tested.
Participants with ED and HC exhibited similar pain type and intensity (self-report and real-time). Eating disorders diagnosis was associated with lower self-report pain intensity and non-neuropathic like pain experience (model 1–2). Depressive symptoms partially (model 1–2) or fully (model 3) mediated the association between ED diagnosis and pain experience, alone (model 1) or via alexithymia (model 3). Interoceptive awareness did not influence pain symptomatology.
ED diagnosis is associated with non-neuropathic and lower pain experience. However, concurrent depression and alexithymia are associated with higher pain symptoms and neuropathic features. These results could inform clinicians about the influence of psychopathology on pain experience in ED.