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Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2011 Nov;108(46):781-7. doi: 10.3238/arztebl.2011.0781. Epub 2011 Nov 18.

Burnout: a fashionable diagnosis.

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ZfP Südwürttemberg, Klinik für Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie I der Universität Ulm, Ravensburg, Germany.



"Burnout syndrome" is now a common reason for medical excuses from work, and thus an important topic in health-related economics. Much research is still needed, however, to establish the scientific basis for this entity, the criteria by which it might be diagnosed and classified, and how it should be treated.


A systematic review of this topic, previously published as an HTA report, is presented here together with a selective overview of pertinent literature.


There currently exists neither an officially accepted definition nor a valid instrument for the differential diagnosis of burnout syndrome. Its manifestations are generally considered to lie along three dimensions: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced performance ability and/or motivation. Most of the available studies on its epidemiology and differential diagnosis provide no more than a low level of evidence for their conclusions. There have been no controlled trials of treatments for burnout.


High-quality controlled studies on burnout syndrome are lacking. A standardized and internationally accepted diagnostic instrument with a validated rating scale should be developed. There is also a need for epidemiological and health-economic studies on the prevalence, incidence, and cost of burnout. The etiology and pathogenesis of burnout should be studied with special regard to the possible role of neurobiological factors. Treatments for it should be studied systematically so that their effects can be judged at a high level of evidence. In view of the current lack of knowledge about what is called "burnout," the term should not be used as a medical diagnosis or as a basis for decisions regarding disability or other socioeconomic matters.

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