Asthenia: what is it and what are the symptoms?

At one point we all ended up feeling helpless. Wanting nothing out of danger of lying down and resting, exhausted. We feel weak and almost unable to move, needing a break.

This feeling of tiredness will probably pass after a while, after a period of rest. However, due to multiple causes, this sensation sometimes resists remission and lasts over time. We would be faced with a case of asthenia.

Definition of the concept of asthenia

We call asthenia a picture in which it occurs a reduction in the level of energy and strength in the body, thus decreasing motivation and produce a feeling of exhaustion both physically and mentally.

Although such conditions as spring asthenia are well known, asthenia is generally classified as a symptom because it is an indicator of a process deeper than the cause, regardless of its etiology.

This disorder may be accompanied by difficulty in paying attention and concentrating, disturbed sleep and memory, loss of appetite and desire for sex, bradykinesia or slowness of movement, dizziness, emotional lability, depressive symptoms and even depending on your cause, it is possible to experience alterations such as fever and hallucinations. In some cases, this can lead to loss of consciousness, changes in vision, or difficulty speaking, in which case you need to go to medical services urgently, which can be a symptom of a serious organ disorder.

This exhaustion produces a number of complications in the life of the sufferer., Affecting their life in different areas of life by decreasing the number of behaviors practiced and their mood.

Etiology or causes of asthenia

As we mentioned, asthenia is often classified as a symptom of a medical process or mental condition, Having several possible causes of its occurrence. In general, it is observed that with asthenia a decrease or impairment of the immune system tends to appear, so this is considered a possible explanation for the symptoms.

Medically, it can be caused by the presence of allergies and autoimmune problems (as in the case of spring asthenia or in some cases of HIV patients). It is also common in infectious processes, due to the lack of sufficient nutrients in the body as in the case of anemia, as well as in neurological disorders, tumor processes and even as a reaction or side effect of some drugs. such as benzodiazepines and tranquilizers or antihistamines). Metabolic disorders such as diabetes mellitus can also cause episodes of asthenia.

In more than half of the cases, asthenia is due to purely psychological causes.

Knowing then as psychogenic or functional asthenia, it is common for it to appear in the presence of continuous stress, As suffered in subjects in burn-out or in exam preparation periods in the case of students. In these cases, the asthenic episode worsens in the morning, usually appearing with problems reconciling or maintaining sleep. It also appears in the face of a disruption of circadian rhythms such as that produced by jet lag. Finally, this symptom appears in a large number of disorders that produce emotional wear and tear, being frequently seen in depression, anxiety disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.

At a more normative level, the onset of asthenia due to aging, pregnancy or the existence of an overly sedentary lifestyle is also common.

Brain mechanisms involved

While the specific causes of asthenia can be, as we have seen, multiple and varied, in the brain, the presence of alterations in the wakefulness system is discussed: The activating reticular system or ARS, located in the brainstem.

These alterations are based on the non-activation of this center, which causes a feeling of fatigue both physically and mentally. In this regard, the existence of a problem with the production of norepinephrine in the locus coeruleus or its transmission is raised.


Asthenia is usually treated by resolving the specific cause that caused itThere is usually no specific treatment for this problem.

However, physical exercise is very useful, as it is remembered, it helps reduce stress and relax, as well as generate endorphins endogenously.

Cognitive behavioral therapy is also effective in the treatment of asthenia, especially if it occurs chronically, helping to de-dramatize the problems present, to improve cognition and the behaviors that may influence the onset of asthenia. and to present techniques and plan activities so that the patient is able to better manage stress and perform optimally on a daily basis.

At the pharmacological level, antidepressants or anxiolytics, as well as multivitamin preparations, have sometimes been used in order to increase the energy level. A drug that is also sometimes prescribed as an anti-asthenic is sulbutiamine, especially for sexual symptoms.

Fundamental difference of asthenia from normal fatigue

Asthenia is often mistaken for a normal fatigue process. The main difference between asthenia and fatigue is that while fatigue with a period of rest usually reverses, in the case of asthenia it persists and even worsens, and can become chronic known as name of chronic fatigue syndrome if the problem persists for more than six months. producing a deterioration of the patient’s life at work, social or personal level of more than 50% from his baseline.

Bibliographical references:

  • Casanovas, JM (2009). Symptom of the disease: asthenia. Rev Pediatr Aten Primary. Vol. 11, 17, 425-431.
  • Feuerstein, C. (1992): Neurophysiological data on fatigue. Role of the activating reticular system. Bichat interviews 11-19.
  • Price, JR and Couper, J. (2000). Cognitive-behavioral therapy for adults with chronic fatigue syndrome. Cochrane Database Rev.

  • Walkman, KE; Morton, AR; Goodman, C .; Grove, R. and Guilfoyle, AM (2004). Randomized controlled trial of graduated exercise in chronic fatigue syndrome. Med J Aust. 180 (9): 444-8.
  • Waynberg, J. (1991). Asthenia and male dysfunction. JAMA (French ed.); 222 (suppl.): 4-12

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