American neurologist, George Miller Beard, came up with the name Neurasthenia in 1869 as a descriptive name for a condition characterized by vague neurasthenia symptoms of fatigue, depression, headaches, stomach upset, and neuralgia. Sigmund Freud also used the term as a description for any fundamental problem with mental functioning and the term was subsequently applied to many different types of psychoneuroses, although modern psychiatry has now abandoned this practice.
Back in the 19th century, neurasthenia was believed to be far more prevalent amongst the educated classes than the unskilled workforce and doctors of the time thought it was caused by a combination of environmental factors that today would be classified as stress, upset, and overwork.
Today, modern medicine no longer favors neurasthenia as a diagnosis and the symptoms of the illness are far more likely to be attributed to other health problems, although neurasthenia is still a popular diagnosis for extreme fatigue in many Asian countries. Modern health professionals consider the symptoms related to neurasthenia to be a neurotic or behavioral condition rather than a medical illness.
Many psychiatrists believe that the symptoms of neurasthenia can also be closely linked to chronic fatigue syndrome, a condition that was once popularly referred to as ‘yuppie flu’. Chronic fatigue syndrome is also known as ME. Another potential cause of neurasthenia symptoms is the Epstein Barr virus.
What are the common neurasthenia symptoms?
There are many different symptoms associated with Neurasthenia. These include a general feelings of weakness and fatigue that might be accompanied by chest pains and a rapid heartbeat, hyperventilation, cold and clammy feet/hands, unexplained sweating, dizziness and fainting.
The symptoms of neurasthenia are usually triggered by high stress situations and are commonly associated with anxiety disorders. Although the cause of the illness is not known, it is most typically associated with high stress occupations and is more likely to occur in men between the ages of 20 and 55.
What is the treatment for neurasthenia symptoms?
Back in the 19th century, being diagnosed with neurasthenia was probably your worst nightmare as the cure was invariably a whole lot worse than the actual illness. Victorian doctors advocated all kinds of experimental treatments for those suffering from the symptoms of neurasthenia. These included electroshock therapy (extremely painful and barbaric) and enforced rest cures for up to two months (the ideal way for a husband to have his wife banished into solitary confinement).
Modern treatments for the symptoms of neurasthenia are thankfully more humane and are likely to include a healthy diet, antihistamines, and anti-inflammatory medications, although neurasthenia is now largely categorized as a neurotic disorder rather than a medical diagnosis.
In Asia, it remains popular as a diagnosis due to the stigma associated with any kind of mental health disorder, so instead of suffering the embarrassment of being treated for more serious mental health disorders such as schizophrenia or anxiety problems, a patient can treated for a ‘weakness of nerves’. Unfortunately the umbrella diagnosis of neurasthenia can lead to severe mental health problems being ignored and left untreated.