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Valerie Garner
Sedro Woolley WA 98284

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  How Come I Feel So Weak? 

A common complaint that is heard in the physicians office is why am I so weak and fatigued. Weakness and fatigue are terms that are often used as if they mean the same thing, but in fact they describe two different symptoms. It is important to explain what you mean when your concern is weakness or fatigue. This will help your health care professional make a better assessment of your symptoms.

A feeling of weakness is a sensation that you do not have adequate strength to perform certain activities that involve the use of your arms, legs, trunk, and other muscles. This may be demonstrated by difficulty getting up from a chair, walking across the room, lifting objects, and performing other activities of daily living that require the use of your muscles.

Fatigue is a feeling of tiredness, exhaustion, or lack of energy. Someone suffering from fatigue may require frequent rest to complete a task. The symptom frequently comes to attention because they are not able to perform routine activities without stopping to rest.

General weakness often occurs after you have done too much activity and simply need to allow your muscles to rest. An example would be a long hike, running, working out at the gym or other activity requiring a lot of muscular exertion. Weakness related to these activities usually improves after a short period of time.

If the weakness is not improving, after a short period of time, it is important to see your doctor for further evaluation. The following  are potentially serious health related problems that can cause weakness.


Thyroid Abnormalities

The thyroid gland is involved in the bodies use of energy. An underactive thyroid or low thyroid level (hypothyroidism) can cause fatigue, weakness, lethargy, weight gain, depression, memory problems, constipation, dry skin, intolerance to cold, coarse and thinning hair, brittle nails and abnormalities in cholesterol and triglycerides. Heart related problems such as low heart rate and enlargement of the heart may occur.

An overactive thyroid or high thyroid level (hyperthyroidism) can cause fatigue, weight loss, increased heart rate, intolerance to heat, sweating, muscle weakness, irritability, anxiety, and other mood disorders.

Electrolyte Abnormalities

A problem with the bodies minerals (electrolytes) can cause weakness of the muscles. Low levels of potassium, sodium, calcium, and magnesium may all contribute to muscular weakness and abnormalities in nerve conduction. Individuals with very low sodium levels may demonstrate mental status changes and seizures when levels become dangerously low. Low levels of potassium may cause weakness as well as heart rhythm irregularities. Electrolyte abnormalities may be seen in patients that are taking diuretics for blood pressure control or to help control problems with fluid retention and swelling.

Neurologic Abnormalities

It is imperative that you see your healthcare professional if you are experiencing muscle weakness that is slowly getting worse or sudden in onset. Sudden muscle weakness and loss of function in one area of the body can indicate a serious problem within the brain such as a stroke or transient ischemic attack (frequently referred to as mini stroke).

Spinal cord injury or pressure on the nerves from disk herniation can also result in weakness of the extremities that demands further evaluation.

Two less common serious medical problems that cause weakness are Guillain-Barre syndrome and Myasthenia gravis. Guillain-Barre syndrome is a rare nerve disorder that causes weakness in the legs, arms, and other muscles and can progress to complete paralysis.

Myasthenia gravis, is a rare, chronic disorder that causes weakness and rapid muscle fatigue.

The symptoms of weakness and fatigue are commonly experienced by all of us during our day to day activities. Most of the time the cause will be easily explained and nothing serious. However, when symptoms are of sudden onset, progressive, or of duration greater than 1-2 weeks, further evaluation is warranted. It is important to be proactive in seeking medical advice so that you can keep moving forward with a healthy, and rewarding life.

Curtis E. McElroy is an internal medicine physician with an interest in the research and writing of health and wellness, self improvement, and motivational articles. His website is



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