Weakness symptoms, causes and treatment

Weakness is a common symptom that most people experience. When one experiences weakness, he or she has a decreased strength in one or more muscle groups. In its medical definition, weakness pertains to the loss of muscle strength. Several conditions can cause significant muscle function. A person may feel weakness in one muscle or muscle group, and it is referred to as generalized weakness. 

Table of Medications

  • Modafinil
  • Methylphenidate
  • Amphetamine / dextroamphetamine
  • Amantadine
  • Dextroamphetamine

Overview

Generalized weakness is caused by various conditions, including neuromuscular system injuries, toxins, and metabolic causes. The signs and symptoms of significant weakness can lead to difficulties in daily functioning, like writing, grooming, and loss of balance. 

In most cases, the term weakness is used to describe weariness, fatigue, tiredness, or lack of energy. However, it is not technically correct. People with specific medical conditions like insomnia, heart disease, chronic fatigue, influenza, or adrenal diseases may feel total body weakness. It refers to the feeling of tiredness or malaise even without detected loss of muscle strength.  

Causes of Generalized Weakness

A person may experience weakness of muscles or muscle groups due to various causes. The most common causes of weakness are the following:

  • Thyroid Disease – underactive thyroid cause depression, fatigue, and weight gain. This condition can be confirmed through a blood test. Hypothyroidism responds well to replacement hormones. 
  • Anemia – one common cause for weakness in women is iron deficiency anemia. Without enough iron, the body will not get enough oxygen for energy. If you experience heavy menstrual period or currently pregnant, there is a higher risk for iron-deficiency anemia. 
  • Flu – one significant symptom of influenza is the overall weakness or fatigue. If you are feeling a bit under the weather and showing signs of flu, get enough rest, and take medications to manage your condition. 
  • Lack of Sleep – incomplete sleep negatively impacts your overall health and well-being. Ideally, you should get seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Aim for a regular bedtime routine and check whether your bedroom is suitable for sleeping. Make simple changes in your environment if you are having difficulties sleeping. 
  • Anxiety or Depression – apart from sadness and anxiety, depression can also cause physical symptoms such as insomnia, pain, and fatigue. Depression may not be resolved without treatment; thus, medical attention is needed for this condition.  
  • Congestive Heart Failure – heart diseases can cause fatigue when you do your usual daily activities like cleaning, climbing the stairs, or shopping. This condition needs a personalized treatment plan. 
  • Undiagnosed or Unmanaged Diabetes – whether you have low or high blood sugar levels, you are bound to experience fatigue and weakness. People with diabetes need to manage their condition with proper diet and exercise. 

Other common causes include muscle diseases, vitamin deficiency, chemotherapy, and side effects of medications. Some health conditions like cancers, heart attack, and stroke are also known causes of generalized weakness. 

Weakness due to cancer may develop slowly over an extended period; however, weakness caused by a stroke or a heart attack usually happens immediately. Likewise, for weakness that is accompanied by other symptoms like pain, difficulty in breathing, or irregular heartbeat, immediate medical attention is needed. Call 911 for sudden weakness experienced and avoid driving yourself to the hospital. 

Diagnosis and Treatment

There are no specific treatments for generalized weakness. The best way to treat this condition is to focus on the underlying cause. For instance, a patient with carbon monoxide poisoning can be treated by removing them out of the environment saturated with carbon monoxide. Thus, if you can figure out what’s causing your weakness, then it can be treated. 

When you go to your doctor, discuss the symptoms you experience to help them determine the cause and the best treatment method. You will be asked to recount when you first experience the symptoms so that your doctor will understand its cause. 

Likewise, you will also be asked to undergo some tests. You will be asked to provide a urine sample and a blood sample for laboratory testing. The results of the tests will show signs of infections and potential conditions that may cause your weakness. 

For weakness that is accompanied by pain, doctors may suggest imaging tests to check the area of the pain. The test may include any of the following – MRI scans, CT scans, X-rays, and ultrasounds. Likewise, your doctor may also order for an electrocardiogram and brain scan if they suspect a heart attack or stroke. 

What are the treatment options for generalized weakness?

Treatment for weakness will depend upon the diagnosis of your doctor. They will discuss treatment options and plans based on their findings after running some tests. Here are some treatment plans based on their causes. 

Supplements – for weakness due to anemia and deficiency in vitamins, supplementation may be prescribed. For severe anemia, a blood transfusion is done to treat the condition. A donor will receive donor blood through an IV line in a hospital. 

Heart Attack Treatment – if your doctor suspects that you have heart problems or might have experienced a heart attack, they will discuss treatment plans available for your condition.  

Cancer Treatments – for weakness due to cancer, the doctor will discuss possible treatment options for your case. The kind of cancer, stage, and body structure involved will help in determining the best course of treatment for you. Treatment plans for cancer may include surgery, radiation treatment, and chemotherapy. More so, cancer treatments may also cause generalized weakness in patients.   

More Fluid Intake – in case your weakness is due to dehydration, you will be advised to increase your fluid intake. For severe dehydration, you may need hospital treatment and receive fluid via an IV line. You may also be given medication to increase blood pressure. 

You should also note that not all cases of weakness will need treatment. If you experience weakness because of flu or lack of sleep, treatment may not be necessary. For flu, you have to ensure that you get enough rest and fluids. Likewise, for weakness due to lack of sleep, you should make changes in your sleeping schedule for you to get at least six to seven hours of sleep. 

What are Normal Conditions?

Generalized weakness is experienced as a part of normal life. Some of its causes do not need specific treatment. For instance, if you are feeling weakness due to flu or cold, all you need is to time and rest to clear up your symptoms and for you to feel better. 

For weakness that originates from a severe medical condition, you have to consult with your doctor and follow your prescribed treatment plans. Early detection and regular check-ups can help you recover more quickly. Taking care of your physical health is a preventive measure against sickness and generalized weakness. Ideally, you should drink more fluids, exercise regularly, and get enough rest and sleep to recover or prevent weakness. 

Risks of Having Generalized Weakness

People of all ethnicities, ages, and backgrounds can experience generalized weakness. It can be associated with an underlying medical condition or due to their lifestyle and work habits.  

The risk of having generalized weakness is higher for women than it is for men. The female gender is more likely to experience weakness as they are prone to anemia and vitamin deficiencies. 

Likewise, individuals aging 40s and above are more at risk of experiencing weakness. It is one of the most common medical complaints of seniors. It may be due to the loss of strength in their muscles due to aging. However, it is still one of the hardest to diagnose, especially in seniors. 

When to Seek Medical Attention?

Weakness is deemed isolated when you feel weakness in one area of the body. You might not be able to move this part efficiently and hinder your mobility. Some people also experience slow or delayed movement along with this weakness. Others may have tremors, muscle cramps, or muscle twitching. 

For generalized weakness or a full-body weakness, a person may feel like they have the flu. It causes a person to feel run down. It is also referred to as fatigue. In some cases, it is possible to feel generalized weakness even if you don’t feel tired. Some people experience whole body weakness along with fever, pain in affected areas, and flu-like symptoms. 

You should call a doctor or seek immediate medical attention if you experience weakness with these emergency symptoms:

  • Confusion
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness
  • Changes in vision
  • Difficulty in speaking
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Incontinence
  • Seizures
  • The worst case of headache
  • Severe abdominal, lower back or pelvic pain 

Although generalized weakness is commonly experienced, it can also be due to severe medical conditions. Failure to seek treatment can result in severe complications and permanent damage. Without proper treatment, your weakness can lead to difficulty in performing tasks, difficulty sleeping, mobility problems, the spread of infections, psychological problems, the advancement of cancer, and others. 

Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, you should stick with your treatment plan to lessen the risk of potential complications and for you to have improved health and well-being.