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Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2006 Feb;31(2):216-25. Epub 2005 Sep 16.

Clinical burnout is not reflected in the cortisol awakening response, the day-curve or the response to a low-dose dexamethasone suppression test.

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Department of Health Psychology, Utrecht University, P.O. Box 80.140, 3508 TC Utrecht, The Netherlands.


Burnout is presumed to be the result of chronic stress, and chronic stress is known to affect the HPA-axis. To date, studies on HPA-axis functioning in burnout have showed inconsistent results. In the present study, a large sample (n=74) of clinically diagnosed burnout individuals, mostly on sick-leave, were included and compared with 35 healthy controls. Salivary cortisol was sampled on 2 days to determine the cortisol awakening response (CAR) and the day-curve. In addition, the dexamethasone suppression test (DST) was applied to assess the feedback efficacy of the HPA-axis. There were no differences observed in the CAR, day-curve or CAR after DST in the burnout group as compared to a healthy control group. Burnout shows overlap in symptoms with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and depression. Therefore, differential changes in HPA-axis functioning that resemble the hypo-functioning of the HPA-axis in CFS, or rather the hyper-functioning of the HPA-axis in depression, might have obscured the findings. However, no effect of fatigue or depressive mood on HPA-axis functioning was found in the burnout group. We concluded that HPA-axis functioning in clinically diagnosed burnout participants as tested in the present study, seems to be normal.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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