Exercise intolerance

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A 70 year old man with exercise intolerance

Exercise intolerance is a condition where the patient is unable to do physical exercise at the level or for the duration that would be expected of someone in his or her general physical condition, or experiences unusually severe post-exercise pain, fatigue, nausea, vomiting or other negative effects. Exercise intolerance is not a disease or syndrome in and of itself, but a symptom.

Since there are many possible specific reasons why exercise could be inhibited, this is a rather slippery term. For instance, the patient may experience unusual breathlessness (dyspnea), muscle pain (myalgia), or increasing muscle weakness while exercising, or may, after exercise, experience severe headache, nausea, dizziness or extreme fatigue.

In most cases, the specific reason that exercise is not tolerated is of considerable significance when trying to isolate the cause down to a specific disease.


Exercise intolerance is primarily found in cardiorespiratory disorders. It is also a common symptom in chronic fatigue syndrome. Several heart conditions, such as a cardiac arrhythmia (abnormal heart rate or rhythm) or an aortic valve insufficiency, if severe enough can cause activity problems such as shortness of breath and/or exercise intolerance. People with acute back pain from an injury or chronic back pain (e.g., from a degenerative condition) may also experience exercise limitations due to muscle spasms or limited range of spinal motion. Overtraining and (undiagnosed) anemia can also cause the intolerance. Exercise intolerance may result from mutations in mitochondrial Complex III, a complex of Co-enzyme Q10 (ubiquinol) and several proteins. Ubiquinol depletion caused by statin drug usage may also lead to muscle fatigue or exercise intolerance in some cases.[1]


Exercise is key for many heart and back patients, and a variety of specific exercise techniques are available for both groups. Some exercise specialists are trained in modifications specific to these patients[who?].


Certain conditions in particular exist where exercise, particularly rehabilitation, may be contraindicated, including:

Other conditions may also preclude exercising under certain conditions. Passive physiotherapy can in some instances be an alternative for some patients unable to safely self-power.


  1. ^ Thibault, A et al. (March 1996). "Phase I study of lovastatin, an inhibitor of the mevalonate pathway, in patients with cancer". Clin Cancer Res. 2 (3): 483–91. PMID 9816194. Retrieved 5/8/2012.  Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)