Neurasthenia: what is it, causes, symptoms and treatment

At some point in our lives, we have all felt tired, exhausted, and saturated. It is likely that at some point, our strength would not give more, and that it would even give us a headache in the face of fatigue.

Fortunately, this situation was for the most part something temporary and in a short time and maybe with a little rest we were able to get over it. Imagine, however, that we are in this state all the time: we have no strength for anything, we cannot think, we have a headache and a backache, and we cannot even sleep. This is what happens to people who suffer from neurasthenia, a problem we will discuss throughout this article..

    What is neurasthenia?

    The concept of neurasthenia refers to a type of disorder characterized by the presence of profound physical and mental exhaustion and weakness which occurs with the slightest effort. This fatigue, which is the characteristic and most defining symptom of this disorder, tends to go hand in hand with an inability to relax and the presence of other possible symptoms.

    These include disorders such as the presence of irritability which often leads to plaintive behaviors or even direct hostility, loss of appetite, problems with reconciliation and maintenance of sleep, depersonalization or a feeling of dullness. strangeness towards oneself.

    It’s also common to have trouble concentrating and slowing down, as well as anxiety and multiple worries. Neurasthenia appears with a fundamentally depressive type clinic, appearing more from the previous sadness, strong emotivity, Anhedonia or inability to feel pleasure, bursts of tears and / or anger, passivity, apathy and sometimes hopelessness. Libido usually decreases significantly, and decreased performance at work and increased isolation are usually seen.


    Physiological alterations, such as hypotension, fainting, various pain in the body (usually headache), and gastrointestinal issues such as nausea, gas, and burning after eating can occur during this condition. Constipation, back pain are also common and some authors have included possible scalp hypersensitivity among the possible symptoms.

    This is a problem which, as such, is more common in adult males up to the age of fifty. However, it should be noted that medical syndromes such as fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue are heirs to this concept, and in these cases it is more common in women. It would currently be classified as a type of somatomorphic disorder, as the main symptom is the great fatigue and low physical energy maintained by those who suffer from it.

    A currently obsolete concept

    This concept is currently obsolete and is now more commonly referred to as a symptom than as a disorder per se., Since the set of symptoms that it involves can usually be included in other disorders. However, the term neurasthenia also has its history and was once considered to be one of the main types of neurotic disorders.

    It would be in 1880 that the American neurologist George Miller Beard would describe the syndrome of neurasthenia at the clinical level (although the concept already existed before) as an irritating weakness of probably functional causes.

    In addition to this author, neurasthenia would be welcomed and studied by currents such as psychoanalysis. Freud would manage to include it between the two main real neuroses, alongside that of anxiety. It was considered during this time to be one of the main diagnostic categories, being the label that then identified depression.

    Over time, but the concept gradually lost its popularity, to the point that in the DSM-II it disappeared from the set of disorders that were identified there. Despite this, even today some very popular diagnostic manuals such as the ICD-10 include it.

    the causes

    The causes of neurasthenia can be multiple and different theories have different assumptions in this regard.. It is generally considered to have a psychogenic and functional origin, linked to the continuous experience of a situation of suffering, discomfort and / or stress exhausting for the subject.

    In its early days, it was seen as a product of exhaustion generated by high social demand, and over time this consideration has been added to the idea that one of the factors that generate its appearance is the presence of emotional conflicts. In this sense, neurasthenia gravis can occur against the background of depression or an anxiety-related disorder (also including obsessive-compulsive disorder).

    Likewise, cases of neurasthenia have also been identified which appear in the context of medical diseases, such as certain infections, drug or toxic poisoning, neurological diseases and certain tumors. Immune system or hormonal or metabolic dysfunctions, such as hyper / hypothyroidism or diabetes, can also be contexts in which neurasthenia occurs. Finally, extreme hunger, anemia or not getting enough rest during the day are other possible motivators.


    The treatment of neurasthenia depends largely on the causes that may arise. In the case of those images that appear for medical / biological reasons, the treatment of this condition will largely depend on the disease that generates it: treating its origin will improve the person’s condition.

    Also, in the field of pharmacology, people with neurasthenia may benefit from the use of benzodiazepines and / or antidepressants that help them reduce their level of discomfort in a way that facilitates their performance of behavior changes. at the psychological level may function beliefs, expectations and personal demands that the person can maintain, with strategies such as cognitive restructuring to modify them.

    Training in stress management and in enjoyable activities and relaxation techniques, as well as work on life motivations, can also be helpful.

    Bibliographical references:

    • Arias Parra, G. (1957). Current concept of neurasthenia. Lecture given “Medical Seminar”. Jaén, Spain.

    • Beard, GM (1889). A practical treatise on nervous exhaustion (neurasthenia). Its symptoms, its nature, its sequences, its treatment. New York: EB Treat.

    • Martínez Jiménez, M. (2017). Neurasthenia and fibromyalgia: the link between the nervous system and culture in complex clinical entities. Keys to Thought, 11 (22). Mexico.

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