Send to

Choose Destination
J Psychosom Res. 2009 May;66(5):445-54. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2008.12.007. Epub 2009 Mar 3.

The relationship between fatigue and psychiatric disorders: evidence for the concept of neurasthenia.

Author information

Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, London, UK.



Fatigue and psychiatric disorders frequently occur comorbidly and share similar phenomenological features. There has been debate as to whether chronic fatigue, or neurasthenia, should be considered an independent syndrome distinct from psychiatric disorders. We aimed to establish whether persistent fatigue can occur independently from psychiatric disorders and to test the hypothesis that fatigue without comorbid psychiatric symptoms has unique premorbid risk factors. We also aimed to investigate the psychological outcome of any individuals with fatigue.


The MRC National Survey of Health and Development was used to prospectively follow 5362 participants from birth. A sample of nonfatigued individuals without psychiatric disorder was selected at age 36 and followed until age 43 years (n=2714). At age 43, the presence of new onset fatigue and/or psychiatric disorder was assessed. Information on a number of potential premorbid risk factors was collected between ages 0 and 36 years. Individuals with fatigue but no comorbid psychiatric disorder were then followed up at age 53 years.


At age 43 years, 201 (7.4%) participants reported significant levels of new onset fatigue in the absence of comorbid psychiatric disorder. Despite the absence of case level psychiatric disorder, these individuals did report increased levels of some psychological symptoms. Excessive childhood energy (adjusted OR 2.63, 95% CI 1.55-4.48, P<.001) and being overweight at age 36 (adjusted OR 1.62, 95% CI 1.05-2.49, P=.03) were specific risk factors for fatigue without psychiatric disorder but not fatigue with comorbid psychiatric illness. Neuroticism was a risk factor for fatigue both with and without comorbid psychiatric disorder. Negative life events and a family history of psychiatric illness were only risk factors for fatigue when it occurred comorbidly with psychiatric illness.


A significant proportion of the adult population will suffer from fatigue without comorbid psychiatric disorder. While fatigue and psychiatric disorders share some risk factors, excessive energy in childhood and being overweight as an adult appear to be specific risk factors for fatigue. Our results confirm the significant overlap between fatigue and psychiatric disorders, while also providing evidence for neurasthenia as a separate diagnosis.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Elsevier Science Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center