Asthenia: meaning, possible causes and remedies
The term asthenia derives from the Greek asthéneia, which means “weakness” or “lack of strength” and represents a condition of general tiredness, which may appear at any age and be due to various causes. Even the symptoms of the condition are not always the same for everyone.
In this article, we aim to offer some clarification about asthenia which, while on one hand may seem a generic condition, should not be trivialised, as it is more frequent than we might think.
The symptoms of asthenia
The characteristic symptoms of asthenia include a feeling of general weakness, due to the loss of muscle strength, which make sufferers unable to react promptly to stimuli and easily become tired, even after minimum effort. Furthermore, the feeling of fatigue due to asthenia tends not to disappear even during rest (which is the main difference between asthenia and normal tiredness), leading sufferers to reduce their daily activities to the minimum indispensable. Anyone who has suffered from this condition often describes it as a feeling of “extreme fatigue”, making them unable to enjoy a normal quality of life, as it often has repercussions on their work and relational abilities.
Other commonly reported symptoms of asthenia include drowsiness and difficulty in resting during sleep, memory deficits and difficulty in concentrating, slow movements and difficulties in physical coordination. Sometimes it is also accompanied by flu-like symptoms, such as headaches and joint pain all over the body. In other cases, sufferers have reported muscle cramps, pins and needles, sweating, visual disorders and mood swings.
The main causes
The possible causes of asthenia can be divided into physical causes and psychological causes. The first relate to a disease and/or condition the person suffers from; the second, on the other hand, are mainly due to states of anxiety and depression.
Many diseases are accompanied by asthenia, but in general they can be divided into the following macro-groups:
- chronic infections,
- various forms of anaemia,
- neuro-muscular diseases,
- thyroid conditions and heart disease,
- post-flu convalescence.
We should also remember that one of the causes most often associated with asthenia symptom is iron deficiency (even without actual anaemia): if the body lacks iron, it also lacks haemoglobin, the protein that carries oxygen to the tissues, which are thus deprived of nutrients and energy.
Furthermore, alterations in the correct functioning of the immune system, caused by infections or recurrent stress, may cause chronic tiredness. One of the clearest examples is the current COVID-19 infection: one of its most characteristic side effects is prolonged, severe asthenia. The chronic tiredness following SARS-Cov-2 infection, the so-called “Post-Covid syndrome”, is to all extents and purposes recognised as the main long-term consequence of Coronavirus infection and can continue for months after testing negative for the disease. In studies published recently1 it has been demonstrated that supplements with vitamins, amino acids, minerals and plant extracts, as in the case of ApportAL®, offer significant benefits for persons who have tested negative following infection and who suffer from chronic post-covid fatigue, improving their quality of life and state of health.
Finally, some physiological conditions may also be characterised by excessive fatigue, such as some periods during pregnancy, the menopause, or intense sports activities.
Who is most at risk of asthenia?
As explained, asthenia is often a symptom characterising various diseases, so persons suffering from chronic diseases such as diabetes, kidney failure, coeliac disease and other malabsorption conditions, hepatitis, thyroid alterations or heart disease are certainly more likely to suffer from it.
But it would not be correct to state that chronic fatigue has a high incidence only in these people: in fact, it often occurs in young, apparently healthy people, or in any case anyone who has not been diagnosed with a disease. In these cases, the cause of asthenia is mainly due to more or less extended periods of stress, or nutritional imbalances, which may lead to the development of dietary deficiencies.
It is therefore clear that asthenia is more frequent that we might imagine, and data confirms that it may affect up to 25% of the general population, and that women are more likely to suffer from it than men. If we also consider the elderly population, here the prevalence increases even to 43-70%, without any specific associated diseases2.
Can asthenia be correlated to nutritional deficiencies?
Certainly, our diet significantly affects how our body functions: a health, balanced diet prevents the risk of nutrient deficiencies, which can underlie the onset of asthenia. In particular, mineral deficiencies are often associated with the alteration of sophisticated balances that control the correct operation of many bodily functions, like the immune system or the central nervous system (as we have already seen in our insight on the functions of minerals in the human body).
Vitamins are also an essential constituent in our diet and play a key role in regulating the production and use of energy in our body. Just think of the vitamins in group B, which transform what we eat in our diet into energy that can be used by our cells, or vitamin D, which among its various actions also plays a major muscle function.
Therefore, seeking to avoid vitamin and mineral deficiencies is one of the fundamental indications for reducing the risk of asthenia.
Possible remedies and solutions
Having described asthenia not as a disease but rather as the physical or psychological consequence of various conditions, the best approach is to act upstream, intervening in the cause of extreme fatigue. It is however true that it is not always easy, at least at first, to identify the triggering cause, and even when we can it is not always possible to avoid it – just think of chronic diseases.
In all these circumstances, it is therefore important to find a solution, using iron supplements and food supplements containing energising and antioxidant active ingredients that act on muscle function.
- S. Rossato et al. Observational study on the benefit of a nutritional supplement, supporting immune function and energy metabolism, on chronic fatigue associated with the SARS-CoV-2 post-infection progress. Clinical Nutrition ESPEN. Volume 46, December 2021, Page 510-518.
- G. Bettoncelli et al. Il problema del paziente astenico: dal mitocondrio alla clinica. Rivista della Società italiana di medicina generale. N 4 August 2011. Page 29-36.