Common Causes of Generalized Weakness

Generalized weakness is one of the most common medical complaints of seniors in the U.S. It is characterized by muscle weakness throughout the body. There are so many medical conditions that can result in generalized weakness that it is one of the hardest medical complaints to diagnose.

man with cane
NuriaE / Getty Images

Ruling Out Other Medical Conditions

Healthcare providers try to start with what a medical condition isn't before trying to figure out what it is. We call it ruling out the problems.

For example, weakness in only one area of the body is usually related to the brain (stroke) or to weakness in the muscles in that area being fatigued.

If you were experiencing shortness of breath with weakness, emergency medical responders and healthcare providers would rule out shock or stroke and focus on asthma, COPD, heart failure ,or anaphylactic reaction as possible culprits.


Generalized weakness is most often related to fatigue or low blood pressure. It can be also be related to endocrine problems. Medical reports have identified several conditions associated with acute weakness seen in the emergency room. Here is a list of potential causes of generalized weakness:

  • Shock is a medical condition that leads to dangerously low blood pressure. It can be from things like bleeding, dehydration, or heat exhaustion. Severe infections, known as sepsis, can also lead to shock.
  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) is a concern if you have a history of diabetes or you've gone a very long time without eating. It's very common for patients to develop hypoglycemia when they are being treated for diabetes.
  • Severe hypothermia can cause fatigue and weakness. The lack of heat leads to a loss of energy as the body tries to conserve. By the time hypothermia is bad enough to cause fatigue, it is a severe medical emergency.
  • Many poisons including those found in the home as well as many medications can cause weakness or fainting. Carbon monoxide (CO) is a common household poisonous gas that might affect more people than we realize. The classic symptoms of CO poisoning start with weakness and headache. Make sure to get an accurate CO poisoning diagnosis and treatment.
  • Anything that causes shortness of breath or chest pain, such as asthma, heart failure or anaphylaxis (allergic reaction) can lead to fatigue and general weakness. The lack of oxygen (or buildup of CO2) in the bloodstream means the body tissues and cells don't get enough oxygen to power themselves.


There is no specific treatment for generalized weakness. The only way to fix the weakness is to treat the underlying cause. For example, carbon monoxide poisoning can only be treated by moving the patient out of the environment where the carbon monoxide is in the air. Usually, that means moving the patient out of the house.

Many of the same causes of general weakness lead to things like fainting and some of the treatments might help. You could even think of general weakness as slow-motion fainting. If you can figure out what's causing weakness, you can treat it.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Stroke. National Institutes on Aging.

  2. Miller, Marc, MD. Approach to the Patient with Muscle Weakness.

  3. Asimos,Andrew W, MD. Evaluation of the Adult With Acute Weakness in the Emergency Department.

By Rod Brouhard, EMT-P
Rod Brouhard is an emergency medical technician paramedic (EMT-P), journalist, educator, and advocate for emergency medical service providers and patients.