What causes muscle weakness? 36 possible conditions

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Definition

Muscle weakness.

Alternative Names

Muscle strength reduced, muscular weakness, weak muscles.

Synopsis

True muscle weakness means that full effort does not produce a normal muscle contraction or movement. A voluntary muscle contraction is generated when the brain sends a signal through the spinal cord and nerves to a muscle. If the brain, the nervous system, the muscles or the connections are injured or effected by disease, the muscle will not contract normally and muscle weakness is the resultant symptom.

Associated Diagnoses

  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Muscular dystrophy
  • Graves disease
  • Guillain-Barre syndrome
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Lou Gehrig’s disease
  • Myasthenia gravis
  • Neuralgias
  • Peripheral neuropathy
  • Polio
  • Rheumatic fever
  • West Nile virus
  • Hypercalcemia
  • Botulism
  • Polymyositis
  • Stroke
  • Prolonged bed rest or immobilization

Diagnosis and Treatment

A thorough evaluation by a physician is indicated for muscle weakness. The evaluation will determine which muscles are affected, if muscle atrophy is present. Reflexes, sensation and muscle tone will be assessed. If further investigation is needed, the doctor may order diagnostic studies such as a CT scan, MRI, nerve conduction studies or electromyography as well as laboratory tests (drawing blood). The treatment will depend on the underlying problem and the severity of the symptoms.

Call your provider:

Whenever there is unexplained muscle weakness that is not due to periodic feelings of being tired or run down.

Call 911:

  • Any sudden onset of muscle weakness, such as being unable to move an arm or leg, or problems walking, standing or sitting upright
  • Any sudden onset of being unable to smile or make facial grimaces
  • Any chest muscle weakness resulting in difficulties breathing

Muscle Weakness News

  • Weak Muscles in Teen Years Linked to Early Death in Men
  • Weak Muscles in Teen Years Linked to Early Death in Men
  • Muscle Weakness Linked to Alzheimer's Risk in Seniors
Read More

See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.

1

CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome)

Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a debilitating disorder characterized by intense fatigue that cannot be cured with sleep. Mental and physical activities may cause symptoms to worsen. When fatigue cannot be linked to ...

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2

Slipped (Herniated) Disk

The vertebrae in your spine are cushioned by disks composed of a hard outer ring with a gelatinous material inside. Injury or weakness can cause the inner portion of the disk to break through the outer portion.

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3

Neuralgia

Neuralgia is a stabbing, burning, and often quite severe pain that occurs along a damaged nerve. It has several causes, from shingles to diabetes or multiple sclerosis.

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4

Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy

One of the nine types of muscular dystrophy, Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) is a genetic condition characterized by progressive weakening of voluntary muscles that leads to death. DMD worsens more rapidly than othe...

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5

Stroke Overview

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

A stroke (a "brain attack") is a medical emergency in which part of the brain is deprived of oxygen. This occurs when an artery that supplies oxygenated blood to the brain becomes damaged and brain cells begin to die.

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6

Mini Stroke (Transient Ischemic Attack)

This condition is considered a medical emergency. Urgent care may be required.

During a transient ischemic attack (TIA, mini stroke) blood stops flowing to the brain for a short period of time. TIA doesn't kill brain cells like a stroke does. TIA causes symptoms that mimic those of a stroke.

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7

Graves' Disease

Graves disease is an autoimmune disorder that leads to hyperthyroidism and causes thyroid swelling.

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8

ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease)

Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) is a noncontagious, degenerative disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. A chronic disorder, it causes a loss of control of voluntary muscles, also affecting the nerves tha...

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9

Muscular Dystrophies

Muscular dystrophies are a group of diseases that are passed down genetically. These diseases cause damage and weakness to muscles over time. This damage and weakness is caused by the lack of a protein calle...

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10

Rhabdomyolysis

Rhabdomyolysis is breakdown of muscle fibers. Muscle breakdown causes the release of myoglobin into the bloodstream. Myoglobin can cause kidney damage. Symptoms include dark urine, muscle weakness, and fatigue. Abou...

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11

Myasthenia Gravis

Myasthenia gravis (MG) is a neuromuscular disorder that causes weakness in the skeletal muscles, which are the muscles that the body uses for movement. It occurs when communication between nerve cells and muscle...

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12

Hypercalcemia

Hypercalcemia is a condition in which you have too much calcium in your blood. Calcium performs important functions, such as helping to keep your bones healthy. However, too much of it can cause problems. Hypercalcemi...

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13

Low Blood Potassium

Hypokalemia occurs when the blood's potassium levels are too low. A normal level of potassium is 3.6-5.2 millimoles per liter. Levels below 3.6 are considered low.

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14

Becker Muscular Dystrophy

Becker muscular dystrophy is a genetic condition that causes your muscles to become damaged and weakened over time, resulting in loss of muscle tissue. If you have this condition, you could begin to experience problem...

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15

Rickets

Rickets is a nutritional disorder that can develop if you do not get enough vitamin D, calcium, or phosphate. Rickets leads to poor functioning of a bone's growth plate (growing edge), softened and weakened bones...

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16

Peripheral Neuropathy

Your peripheral nervous system connects the nerves from the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system) to the rest of the body, including the arms, hands, feet, legs, internal organs, mouth and face. The job o...

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17

Rheumatic Fever

Rheumatic fever is one of the complications associated with strep throat. The condition usually appears in children between the ages of 5 and 15, even though older children and adults have been known to contract th...

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18

Hypothyroidism

The thyroid gland is an important endocrine gland that controls the body's metabolism. It is a small butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of the neck just below the Adam's apple. The thyroid gland produces th...

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19

Dermatomyositis

Dermatomyositis is a rare inflammatory disease. It is an inflammatory myopathy, a condition that occurs when muscles become inflamed. It is one of only three known inflammatory myopathies. The most common symptom i...

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20

Porphyrias

Porphyrias are a group of rare inherited blood disorders. People with these disorders do not make heme, a component of hemoglobin (protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen) properly. Heme is made of porphyrin (...

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.
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