Wah, I’m Tired. Is ‘Exhaustion’ a Legitimate Medical Condition?

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Henrik Sorensen

Lady Gaga had it, and so did Wyclef Jean: exhaustion. In early October, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra music director, Riccardo Muti, was also diagnosed with exhaustion and had to withdraw from the last two weeks of his program, having been prescribed by his doctor to a solid month of rest. But is tiredness really a medical condition, or just an excuse for some people to take a break?

The World Health Organization says medical exhaustion is a real consequence of various conditions, including heat, pregnancy, overexertion and combat. Fatigue is also a common side effect of cancer, low thyroid or other medical problems. (More on Time.com: Does Lack of Sleep for Children Mean Obesity?).

According to a recent Chicago Tribune article, exhaustion can also occur as a result of overwork. Though most working Americans would probably scoff at the notion — by that definition, aren’t we all exhausted? — some doctors say that chronic sleep loss and overwork can contribute to both long-term and acute health problems, including depression, heart disease and gastrointestinal distress. (Muti suffered from abdominal pain.) The Tribune reports:

Americans have more sleep loss and longer work schedules than residents of most other industrialized countries, and both factors can lead to physical and emotional collapse, said Dr. Eve Van Cauter, a sleep researcher and professor of medicine at the University of Chicago.

Experts say chronic stress can trigger a cascade of negative health effects — in particular, the gastrointestinal distress suffered by Muti. The condition is frequently seen in night or shift workers, a description that, in some ways, applies to the maestro.

Of course, extreme fatigue can also be triggered by addiction or alcoholism — but at least one physician says these aren’t justifiable grounds for a medical diagnosis:

“It is a legitimate diagnosis when exhaustion causes someone to collapse and be unable to function,” said Los Angeles-based psychiatrist Judith Orloff, who frequently treats exhausted celebs. “Exhaustion can also lead to low serotonin, which causes depression, anxiety and insomnia. But it’s not accurate if the real diagnosis is drug or alcohol intoxication or overdose.”

The cure for exhaustion is rest. Take at least a weekend off to sleep and rest. You should also be getting regular and adequate sleep each night. How much is that? Check out the National Sleep Foundation website to figure it out.

More on Time.com:

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