The association between burnout and physical illness in the general population--results from the Finnish Health 2000 Study

J Psychosom Res. 2006 Jul;61(1):59-66. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychores.2005.10.002.


Objective: The association between burnout and physical diseases has been studied very little. The purpose of this study was to examine the relationship between burnout and physical illness in a representative nationwide population health study.

Methods: As a part of the "Health 2000 Study" in Finland, 3368 employees aged 30-64 years were studied. Burnout was assessed with the Maslach Burnout Inventory-General Survey. Physical diseases were diagnosed in a comprehensive health examination by research physicians.

Results: Physical illness was more common among subjects with burnout than others (64% vs. 54%, P<.0001), and the prevalence of diseases increased with the severity of burnout (P<.0001). Burnout was an important correlate of cardiovascular diseases among men (OR=1.35; 95% CI, 1.13-1.61) and musculoskeletal disorders among women (OR=1.22, 95% CI, 1.07-1.38) when adjusted for age, marital status, education, socioeconomic status, physical strenuousness of work, smoking, physical activity, alcohol consumption, body mass index, and depressive symptoms. The prevalence of musculoskeletal disorders and cardiovascular diseases increased with the severity of all three dimensions of burnout, that is, exhaustion (P<.0001 and P<.001, respectively), cynicism (P=.0001 and P<.001, respectively), and lack of professional efficacy (P<.01 and P<.0001, respectively).

Conclusions: Burnout is associated with musculoskeletal diseases among women and with cardiovascular diseases among men. These associations are not explained by sociodemographic factors, health behavior, or depression. Physical illnesses are associated with all three dimensions of burnout and not only with the exhaustion dimension. In the future, the causal relationships between burnout and physical diseases need to be investigated in prospective studies.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Burnout, Professional / epidemiology*
  • Burnout, Professional / psychology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / psychology
  • Causality
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Depression / psychology
  • Female
  • Finland
  • Health Behavior
  • Health Surveys
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Life Style
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / epidemiology
  • Musculoskeletal Diseases / psychology
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Psychophysiologic Disorders / psychology
  • Sex Factors
  • Statistics as Topic