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Asthenia: what is it and what symptoms does it produce?

Asthenia: what is it and what symptoms does it produce?

September 26, 2023

On occasion we all have come to feel short of energy . Not wanting anything except to lie down and rest, exhausted. We feel weak and almost unable to move, needing a break.

Probably this feeling of fatigue will happen after a while, after a period of rest. However, due to multiple causes, this sensation sometimes refuses to subside and continues over time. We would be facing a case of asthenia .

Defining the asthenia concept

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

Despite the fact that pathologies such as spring asthenia are known, asthenia is generally classified as a symptom, since it is an indicator of a deeper process than the cause, regardless of its etiology.

This alteration can be accompanied by attention and concentration difficulties, sleep and memory disturbances, loss of appetite and sexual desire, bradykinesia or slowness in movement, dizziness, emotional lability, depressive symptoms and even depending on the cause, it is possible to experience alterations. such as fever and hallucinations. In some cases it can cause loss of consciousness, changes in vision or speech difficulty in which case it should be rushed to medical services, and may be a symptom of a serious organic disorder.

This exhaustion produces a series of complications in the life of the person who suffers it , affecting his life in different vital areas by decreasing the amount of behaviors performed and his mood.

Etiology or causes of asthenia

As we mentioned, Asthenia is usually classified as a symptom of a medical process or mental state , having multiple possible causes for its appearance. At a general level it is observed that together with the asthenia there tends to appear a decrease or alteration in the immune system, so that this is considered as a possible explanation of the symptoms.

At the medical level, it can occur due to the presence of allergies and autoimmune problems (as, for example, in the case of spring asthenia or in some cases of patients with HIV). It is also frequent in infectious processes, in the absence 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 medications 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 the asthenia is due to purely psychological causes.

Knowing then as psychogenic or functional asthenia, It is frequent that this appears in the presence of continued stress , like the one suffered in subjects with burnout or in times of exam preparation in the case of students. In these cases the asthenic episode worsens in the morning, usually appearing along with problems of conciliation or sleep maintenance. It also appears before a dysregulation of circadian rhythms such as that produced by jet-lag. Finally, this symptom appears in a large number of disorders that cause emotional wasting, being frequently visible in cases of depression, anxious disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorders.

At a more normative level, the appearance of asthenia due to aging, pregnancy or the existence of too sedentary lifestyle is frequent.

Brain mechanisms involved

While the specific causes of asthenia may be as we have seen multiple and varied, At the cerebral level, the presence of alterations in the system that governs wakefulness is discussed : the activating reticular system or SRA, 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 aspect, the existence of a problem at the level of the production of noradrenaline in the locus coeruleus or its transmission is raised.


The asthenia is treated at a general level from the resolution of the specific cause that has caused , there is no concrete treatment for this problem in general.

However, it is very useful to perform physical exercise that, remember, helps to reduce stress and relax, in addition to generating endorphins endogenously.

Likewise, cognitive behavioral therapy is successful in the treatment of asthenia, especially if it occurs chronically, helping to de-dramatize present problems, improve cognitions and behaviors that may influence the onset of asthenia and presenting techniques and planning activities. so that the patient is able to better manage stress and present optimal functioning on a day-to-day basis.

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

Basic difference of asthenia with respect to normal fatigue

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

Bibliographic references:

  • Casanovas, J.M. (2009). From the symptom to the disease: asthenia. Rev Pediatr Aten Primaria. vol.11, 17, 425-431.
  • Feuerstein, C. (1992): Neurophysiological data concerning fatigue. Role of the activating reticular system. Entreteins de Bichat.11-19.
  • Price, J.R. & Couper, J. (2000). Cognitive behavior therapy for adults with chronic fatigue syndrome. Cochrane Database Syst Rev.

  • Walkman, K.E .; Morton, A.R .; Goodman, C .; Grove, R. & Guilfoyle, A.M. (2004). Randomized controlled trial of graded 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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