Asthenia (weakness): Causes, symptoms, and treatment

The term asthenia refers to physical weakness or a lack of energy. Asthenia can affect specific body parts, or it may affect the entire body.

Asthenia is not a disease, but it is a common sign of many different acute and chronic medical conditions. Asthenia can also develop as a side-effect of certain medications.

This article outlines the causes and symptoms of asthenia. It also provides information on how doctors diagnose and treat the causes and underlying conditions that lead to asthenia.

Potential causes of asthenia include:

Underlying health conditions

According to an older article, asthenia is a common symptom of various conditions, including:

Medication side effects

Certain medications can cause side effects, such as weakness and fatigue.

Examples of these medications include:

Natural aging

Aging can also cause sarcopenia, which is the gradual loss of muscle tissue and strength. This overall loss of muscle strength can lead to asthenia or more widespread fatigue.

Depending on the cause, asthenia may cause regional weakness or full-body weakness.

Regional weakness

Regional weakness from asthenia occurs in certain body parts, such as the arms or legs. It isn’t the same as paralysis, which is the inability to move. A person with regional weakness due to asthenia may feel like they have to put in a great deal of effort to move.

The body parts experiencing regional weakness may also display additional symptoms, such as:

  • muscle spasms or cramps
  • shaking or tremors
  • delayed or slowed movement

Full-body weakness

Full-body weakness affects the entire body. A person may also experience extreme tiredness or fatigue.

Other possible signs and symptoms of full-body weakness include:

In rare cases, asthenia could be a sign of a stroke or heart attack. Both conditions can cause weakness in one or both sides of the body.

Stroke may cause other sudden and severe symptoms, such as:

  • difficulty speaking or understanding speech
  • disturbed vision in one or both eyes
  • difficulty walking
  • loss of balance
  • lack of coordination
  • dizziness
  • confusion
  • sudden and severe headache
  • paralysis of part of the body

A heart attack may also cause other sudden and severe symptoms. Examples include:

Anyone who experiences symptoms of a stroke or heart attack should phone the emergency services immediately. Without prompt treatment, these conditions can quickly lead to severe complications or death.

Doctors may find diagnosing asthenia challenging because there are many possible causes.

A doctor will typically ask about a person’s symptoms and take a full medical and family history. They will also assess any medications the person is currently taking to determine if they are causing the person’s symptoms.

If a person experiences localized weakness, a doctor might also carry out a detailed physical examination of the affected body part.

After conducting the initial assessment, the doctor may have a better idea of what is causing the asthenia. They may follow up with one or more diagnostic tests, including:

  • blood tests to check for hormonal imbalances or signs of infection
  • a urine test to check for signs of infection and disease
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