Asthenia is a term used by the medical community to refer to weakness. It is a psychopathological condition characterized by extreme acute or chronic loss of strength. This condition may lead to sleep disturbances, fatigue, or lack of energy as well as hyperesthesia, which is an extreme sensitivity of the skin.
Asthenia may be restricted to a single part of the body or affect the body as a whole.
This condition can lead those affected to be unable to perform or finish tasks. Activities may be started without a problem, but due to a reduction or loss of overall strength, they may be difficult to complete. It is possible that an underlying disease or other medical condition can lead to a reduction in muscle strength, such as muscular dystrophy.
Weakness in asthenia may be described as either true weakness or perceived weakness:
- True weakness: Also known as neuromuscular weakness, it is characterized by the limited use of a muscle due to reduced strength as brought on by a defect or damage.
- Perceived weakness: Also known as non-neuromuscular weakness, this is characterized by the perception of weakness when performing a task, while the physiology of the muscle is normal.
What are the causes of asthenia?
There are many reasons why you may experience excessive amounts of weakness. The following are just some examples:
- Anxiety or depression: These conditions are considered the main cause of fatigue and account for most cases of asthenia. Unfortunately, most cases go unrecognized and undiagnosed. Having excessive amounts of anxiety or depression can interfere with a person’s life, affecting their functional status as well as their quality of life.
- Sedentary lifestyle: According to the World Health Organization, 60–85 percent of people around the globe do not get the necessary amount of physical activity. This lack of movement may make the muscles weaker over time.
- Aging: As we get older, the ability of our cells and tissues to maintain homeostasis becomes more and more difficult. This may lead older individuals to become less active to preserve energy. When a person is under stress, symptoms of asthenia are seen more often.
- Infections/chronic diseases: Having the body constantly using up resources to fight off infection can lead to decreased energy levels. Prolonged infections in the body such as tuberculosis or hepatitis can lead to asthenia due to their debilitating effect on the muscles. Conditions such as diabetes and insomnia may also lead to severe weakness.
- Vitamin deficiencies: A lack of important vitamins can lead to decreases in the production of red blood cells, leading to decreased energy levels.
Symptoms of asthenia
The symptoms of this condition depend if it’s localized or generalized throughout the body, but regardless, they always present with some form of weakness. Having an underlying cause for the condition may also present with additional symptoms unique to that particular underlying condition.
The follow are common symptoms of asthenia:
Affecting only a part of the body:
- Slow or delayed movements
- Tremors or shaking episodes
- Muscle twitching
- Muscle cramps
Affecting the whole body:
- Feeling run down or fatigued
- Lack of energy
- Physical discomfort
- Absence or loss of muscle strength
- Inability to complete tasks
- Loss of balance due to weakness
Types of asthenia
There are several forms and classifications of asthenia. They are classified according to the underlying cause and are as follows:
Nerve asthenic syndrome: A form of neurosis whereby the central nervous system is greatly weakened. This leaves the affected individual in a bad mood, irritable, and possibly very aggressive.
Expressed asthenic syndrome: Also known as an organic asthenic disorder, it may develop as the result of an underlying organic brain disorder. Altered mental states tend to leave these patients with tension, as they are very sensitive to stimuli during stressful periods.
Cerebroasthenic syndrome: This occurs due to a violation of the metabolism of brain neurons as the result of a previously unknown infection or head injury.
This often manifests as emotions that the patient is unable to control.
Asthenia with flu: This viral infection is a common cause of muscular weakness, making patients irritable, maladjusted, and reducing capacity to work.
Vegetative syndrome: A form of asthenia that can be seen in adults and children and can be appreciated during periods of serious infection.
Asthenic depression: May present with sudden uncontrollable mood swings. Other symptoms of impaired concentration, memory loss, and impatience may be seen as well.
Alcohol asthenia: A common presentation appearing in alcoholics
Diagnosing asthenia can be difficult, as the primary symptom—weakness—is non-specific and can have may causes. Your doctor will most likely do a whole battery of tests to see if any values appear abnormal. These tests may include:
- Blood tests: Can help to diagnose vitamin deficiencies, inflammatory markers, and electrolyte imbalances.
- Urine tests: Can help rule out diabetes, renal or liver disease, and pregnancy as a cause for extreme weakens.
- Other tests: Depending on what your doctor suspects the underlying cause is, they may perform specialized tests to make an accurate diagnosis.
How to treat asthenia?
To receive adequate treatment of asthenia, underlying causes will need to be identified. The cause will dictate what needs to be done to help recover. The following are some of the possible treatments based on their cause:
- Asthenia due to infection: By using prescribed antibiotics to help fight off infection, you can recover lost energy previous allocated to fight the infection.
- Asthenia due to depression: The use of antidepressant medication can help recover from fatigue.
- Asthenia due to vitamin deficiency: Supplementing the deficient vitamin will often correct the metabolic abnormality that was caused as a result. Common vitamin deficiencies leading to fatigue include vitamin B12 and folate.
- Asthenia due to overwork: If overworking the muscles is leading to excessive weakness, a change in lifestyle may be required for treatment.
- Asthenia due to autoimmune disorders: Medication that prevents the immune system from causing excessive damage may aid in treating weakness due to this condition. Corticosteroids are one such medication.
It is important to visit your local physician if there is any doubt of the cause of your asthenia.