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What does "exhaustion" really mean?

I must confess, when "exhaustion" comes up in a health context, my mind conjures up an imaginary 19th-century scene wherein the town doctor, Phineas (who might look a bit like the man in the daguerreotype), making a house call, diagnoses patient Mamie as having "the exhaustion" or "the malaise." And, of course, his therapy would invariably include a train ride down to old Palo Alto to take in the summer airs. (Again, this interaction happens before Stanford Hospital & Clinics was built, where in addition to receiving world-class care, one can still take in the summer airs.)

But, as it turns out, "exhaustion" isn't just a Victorian malady and is described in the World Health Organization's ICD (Chapter XVIII, R53, if you're curious). Intrigued by singer Caleb Followhill's exhaustion and the resulting cancellation of the Kings of Leon summer tour, Slate writer Christopher Beam looks at exhaustion through the prism of celebrity diagnoses. He finds:

There are plenty of legitimate reasons to hospitalize someone for exhaustion. For one thing, exhaustion can be a symptom of an underlying condition. Metabolic ailments like adrenal insufficiency, which develops after periods of extended physical or emotional stress, or hypothyroidism, a chronic slowing of the thyroid glands, can leave you feeling wiped. Same goes for anemia, a red blood cell deficiency, if left untreated. Those hospitalized for exhaustion might receive blood tests for these conditions. (Insurance companies might even require it.)

The rest of his (relatively brief) article is likewise worth reading.

Photo courtesy of Boston Public Library

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