Abstract: On the history of the concept neurasthenia and its modern variants chronic-fatigue-syndrome, fibromyalgia and multiple chemical sensitivities

Fortschr Neurol Psychiatr 2002 Nov;70(11):570-82

[Article in German]

Schafer ML.

Klinikum der Philipps-Universitat Marburg, Klinik fur Psychiatrie und Psychotherapie, Germany.

This article deals with the history of the terminological and nosological development of the concept neurasthenia introduced in 1869 by George Miller Beard and in particular with its reappearance in western medicine in the 1980s.

Beginning with its predecessors in antiquity and continuing with hypochondria, which became a fashionable disease in the 18 th century, the concept neurasthenia reached a high point and world-wide medical acceptance at the end of the 19 th/beginning of the 20 th century. However, between the 1930 s and 1960 s it declined in popularity and gradually disappeared until finally it only had a rudimentary nosological role in the term “pseudoneurasthenia”.

In the countries of the Far East, on the contrary, the concept of neurasthenia has been in continual use since its importation in the first decades of the last century. In the 1980 s, when an interest in the symptoms of chronic fatigue was reawakened in western medicine, the concept neurasthenia reappeared, this time to define the particular form of a neurotic disorder. Parallel to these developments increasing importance was attached to clinical descriptions of illnesses which on account of their similarity to the symptoms of neurasthenia could be termed modern variants of the concept neurasthenia.

These are “Chronic-Fatigue-Syndrome”, “Fibromyalgia” and “Multiple Chemical Sensitivities” which have more or less adopted the organic inheritance of Beard’s former concept of neurasthenia, despite the fact that so far the question of organicity could not be decisively answered in a single case. In order to clarify possible influences on the development of the concept neurasthenia and its variants, the theories and ideas of E. Shorter, medical historian at the University of Toronto, are discussed in the final part of the article, whereby the particular cultural background in each case has a decisive influence on the manifestation of the psychosomatic symptoms.

Publication Types:

Historical Article


Review, Tutorial

PMID: 12410427 [PubMed – indexed for MEDLINE]

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