Long-term follow-up of residual symptoms in patients treated for stress-related exhaustion

BMC Psychol. 2020 Mar 19;8(1):26. doi: 10.1186/s40359-020-0395-8.


Background: Many patients with stress-related exhaustion seem to struggle with long-term recovery. The primary aim of this study was to explore residual symptoms and perceived recovery in patients previously treated for stress-related exhaustion, 7 years after seeking care.

Methods: A total of 217 former patients (74% women) previously treated for exhaustion disorder were asked to participate in follow-ups 2, 3, 5, and 7 years post treatment. Symptoms of depression, and anxiety were measured with questionnaires. Remaining symptoms of extreme fatigue, sleep disturbances, problems with concentration, problems with memory and reduced stress tolerance, were rated with single item questions. A subgroup of patients (n = 163) participated in a clinical assessment to confirm residual stress-related exhaustion not caused by other diseases.

Results: Almost half of the patients previously treated for stress-related exhaustion perceive fatigue 7 years after initially seeking care, and as many as 73% reported decreased stress tolerance. The clinical assessment confirmed that a third of the patients were clinically judged as still suffering from stress-related exhaustion. Male and female patients showed similar patterns regarding residual symptoms.

Conclusions: One third of patients with exhaustion disorder are clinically judged to have exhaustion, 7 years after seeking care. Further studies are needed to elucidate the reason for such a long-term recovery and ultimately to identify methods for prevention.

Keywords: Exhaustion; Recovery; Stress; Symptoms.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anxiety / diagnosis
  • Anxiety / etiology
  • Attention
  • Depression / diagnosis
  • Depression / etiology
  • Fatigue / etiology
  • Fatigue / psychology
  • Fatigue / therapy*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Stress, Psychological / complications*
  • Stress, Psychological / psychology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires