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Asthenia is a medical term which literally means ‘without strength’. Asthenia is more like a symptom itself rather than a disease. It is the feeling of being tired or fatigue. The word asthenia is now being used interchangeably with the terms “weakness” and “fatigue” but the term ‘fatigue’ has gained more acceptance in the medical literature. It has a wide spectrum of presentations ranging from a generalized body weakness to the weakness of a specific part of the body. It can last for a short while or it may be a permanent weakness. There are several diseases or causes which can result in asthenia ranging from a mere lack of sleep to serious illnesses like cancer or heart attack. So proper investigations and medical examination is required to reach the underlying cause. 

The prevalence of asthenia or fatigue ranges from 48 to 75 percent in the patients with cancer and it increases to about 85 percent in patients having serious or life-threatening illnesses.

Signs and symptoms

The signs and symptoms vary greatly. Some are mild while dangerous one can lead to an immediate visit to an emergency department. They also help the physicians to find the underlying cause. The weakness can be generalized or isolated 

Generalized weakness: the whole body is feeling weak. It has happened to most of us when we suffer from common flu. It is similar to the feeling of being tired but one can feel a full-body weakness even without feeling any tiredness. It may also be associated with the pain, fever or decreased appetite or flu-like symptoms. 

Isolated weakness: this weakness means that there is difficulty in a specific part of your body. The specific part of your body can be legs, hands, fingers or the muscles controlling the movement of your eyelids or face. The weakness can also vary from an increased difficulty in moving the body parts or no movement at all. It can also be associated with 

  • Muscle cramps
  • Muscle twitching or flickering
  • Tremors or shaking

Emergency symptoms: There are the symptoms which are a part of asthenia corresponding to the affected vital organs. Whenever one experiences the following symptoms, he or she should seek the help as soon as possible

  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Light-headedness or dizziness
  • Difficulty in speaking
  • Vision changes
  • Confusion
  • Chest pain

Symptoms of Asthenia | HealthSoul

Causes

Fatigue or weakness can be caused by simple illnesses to life-threatening ones. The common causes are

There can be causes that are related to your lifestyle like

  • Lack of sleep
  • Excessive or lack of physical activity
  • Use of alcohol or drugs
  • Poor and unhealthy eating practices

Other causes of fatigue

  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Nerve of muscle injuries after trauma
  • Diseases affecting muscles or nerves like myasthenia gravis
  • Overdose of medication

Some of the causes are sudden and leads to sudden weakening of the parts of the body like stroke or a heart attack while in many diseases fatigue develop over a period of time gradually. The experience of a sudden weakness requires attention and management as soon as possible.

Causes of Asthenia | HealthSoul

Diagnosis

To find out the which treatment modality will suit you best, it’ important to find out the underlying cause by establishing a diagnosis. Your doctor will use your medical history, perform a medical examination and order some investigations.

Medical history: it is important for your doctor to ask you questions about your illnesses related to how and when it started. For how long you are experiencing it? Are there any associated symptoms? It will help your doctor to narrow down the cause and give some idea about what investigations to be ordered.

Investigation: there are some baseline investigations which are routine for the patients to have. They may take a blood sample to check for any derangements in it. If your doctor is suspecting an underlying cause related to your brain, he can order imaging tests like CT scans. For heart, investigations can include ECG, echocardiography or blood markers. 

Diagnosis of Asthenia | HealthSoul

Management

After diagnosing the underlying cause of illness, your doctor will discuss various treatment options. Since there are a lot of causes, therefore, the treatment options will also vary. It can be medication or surgery or both. For the weakness due to cold or flu, you may not require any treatment.

References

  • Cella D, Davis K, Breitbart W, et al. Cancer-related fatigue: prevalence of proposed diagnostic criteria in a United States sample of cancer survivors. J Clin Oncol 2001; 19:3385.
  • Piper BF, Cella D. Cancer-related fatigue: definitions and clinical subtypes. J Natl Compr Canc Netw 2010; 8:958.
  • Walsh D, et al. Fatigue. In: Palliative Medicine. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2009. www.clinicalkey.com.
  • Ferri FF. Chronic fatigue syndrome. In: Ferri's Clinical Advisor 2016. Philadelphia, Pa.: Mosby Elsevier; 2016. https://www.clinicalkey.com.
  • Fatigue and traumatic brain injury. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation. 2015;96:567. www.archives-pmr.org.
  • Cancer treatment: Side effects. National Cancer Institute. htpp://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/side-effects.

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