Signs and Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue

signs of adrenal fatigue

Signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue may include body aches, sleep disturbances, salt and sugar cravings, nervousness, low energy, and many others. 

These symptoms are usually nonspecific and can also be attributed to other health problems as well.

So if you think you have signs of adrenal fatigue, such as the ones below it is critical to see your medical provider.

Certain tests can be done to rule out other medical conditions because there is no specific test for adrenal fatigue.


What is Adrenal Fatigue?

Adrenal fatigue is a term used to describe a collection of non-specific symptoms that may occur when the adrenal glands are functioning below their optimal level. 

Although it is not a recognized medical condition in conventional medicine, some alternative health practitioners believe adrenal fatigue can result from chronic stress and the body’s inability to cope effectively.

While not all healthcare professionals agree on its validity, many people report experiencing a cluster of symptoms commonly associated with adrenal fatigue.


What causes adrenal fatigue?

According to adrenal fatigue proponents, adrenal fatigue occurs due to too much stress for a prolonged period.

This may be too much mental, emotional, or physical stress or a combination of stressors going on for a long time.

This chronic stress then leads to a depletion of the adrenal glands to the point where they are not able to produce enough cortisol to keep up with the demand. 

Although our bodies are designed to help us in times of crisis through the HPA response, they are designed for short periods of stress.

The adrenal glands as part of the HPA release cortisol and epinephrine which increases blood pressure heart rate and blood sugar so that you have more energy to run or fight the threat causing the stress.

However, when stress is chronic, the adrenals do not get to rest but must continually pump out more and, more cortisol until they cannot keep up.

And that leads to the adrenals underperforming leading to low cortisol and adrenal fatigue.


What is the difference between adrenal fatigue and adrenal insufficiency?

Signs of adrenal fatigue

Adrenal fatigue is said to be a condition associated with a group of symptoms such as chronic low energy, difficulty waking up, midafternoon tiredness, sugar and salt cravings, and other symptoms that occur after long exposure to stress.

However, adrenal fatigue hormone tests do not show low cortisol like they do in adrenal insufficiency.

But unlike adrenal fatigue, adrenal insufficiency is recognized as a medical diagnosis in mainstream medical practice, and some tests are done to confirm a diagnosis. 

Adrenal insufficiency can be primary or secondary and is a serious even life-threatening condition. 

Primary adrenal insufficiency is also referred to as Addison’s disease.

Primary adrenal insufficiency happens when the adrenal glands, the two triangle shapes glands on top of the kidneys stop working.

This can happen due to damage sometimes due to immune system malfunction.

And when that happens the adrenals don’t produce enough cortisol and aldosterone, two hormones critical to many functions in the body.

Cortisol is essential for (source):

  • Helping the body deal with stress from sources such as illness, surgery as well as general emotional and mental stress.
  • Cortisol also maintains blood pressure, heart rate, blood sugar levels, and immune response making it essential for life.

Aldosterone is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands and it controls sodium and potassium balance in the blood, a very critical function in the body.

This in turn controls the amount of fluid your kidneys excrete as urine.

And if too little fluid is excreted then you have fluid overload which affects blood pressure and heart function.

According to NIH, primary adrenal insufficiency starts in the pituitary gland, a pea-sized organ at the base of the brain.

The pituitary produces ACTH (adrenocorticotropin hormone) which tells the adrenals to produce cortisol.

And if the pituitary doesn’t produce ACTH, then the adrenals don’t make enough cortisol and they may even shrink and stop working leading to adrenal insufficiency. 


Signs and Symptoms of adrenal fatigue

Signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue

Fatigue and Tiredness

One of the primary complaints associated with adrenal fatigue is persistent fatigue and tiredness, even after an adequate amount of rest.

You may feel drained and have difficulty getting out of bed in the morning, regardless of how much sleep you have had.


Difficulty Coping with Stress

People with adrenal fatigue often find it challenging to handle stress.

You may feel overwhelmed, anxious, or have a reduced tolerance for stressful situations that you could handle easily before.


Cravings for Salty or Sweet Foods

Adrenal fatigue can lead to fluctuations in blood sugar levels, leading to intense cravings for salty or sweet foods.

Craving these types of foods might be the body’s way of trying to maintain energy levels.


Weakened Immune System

A compromised immune system is another common symptom of adrenal fatigue.

Recurrent infections, slow healing of wounds, and an increased susceptibility to illnesses are often reported.


Unexplained Weight Loss or Gain

Changes in body weight without any significant alterations in diet or physical activity levels can be a sign of adrenal fatigue.

Some individuals may experience unexplained weight loss, while others may gain weight, especially around the abdomen.

Of course, if you are craving salty and sweet things, you are likely to consume a lot of empty calories and since you are so tired, you may not be exercising at all causing weight gain. 


Mood Swings

People with adrenal fatigue may experience sudden mood swings, feeling irritable, and emotionally sensitive.

They might have difficulty controlling their emotions and may feel overwhelmed by seemingly minor issues.


Anxiety and Depression

Adrenal fatigue can also manifest as increased anxiety and feelings of depression.

Persistent fatigue and other physical symptoms can contribute to emotional distress.


Brain Fog

Individuals with adrenal fatigue may experience cognitive difficulties, often referred to as “brain fog.”

They may have trouble concentrating, poor memory retention, and reduced mental clarity.


Sleep Disturbances

Insomnia or Difficulty Falling Asleep is common in adrenal fatigue.

Sometimes cortisol dysregulation can occur with low cortisol in the morning and afternoon causing low energy and high cortisol at night when you are trying to sleep.

This can cause you to feel strung out and wired and anxious making it hard to rest and sleep. 

Sleep disturbances are prevalent in those with adrenal fatigue.

They may have trouble falling asleep or experience frequent awakenings at night, resulting in unrefreshing sleep.


Digestive Issues

Bloating and Digestive Discomfort are also common if you have adrenal fatigue. 

Adrenal fatigue can impact the digestive system, leading to symptoms such as bloating, indigestion, and abdominal discomfort.


Feeling lightheaded

You may feel really weak and even dizzy because with low cortisol you may also experience low blood pressure causing you to feel dizzy. 


How is adrenal fatigue diagnosed?

There are no specific tests for adrenal fatigue. However your doctor can check your hormone levels but in adrenal fatigue, cortisol will still show under normal values.

If you are experiencing fatigue you should seek medical care because fatigue can be caused by various medical conditions, lifestyle factors, and emotional or psychological stressors. Some common causes of fatigue include:

  • Sleep disorders: Conditions like sleep apnea or insomnia can lead to chronic fatigue.

  • Anemia: Low iron levels or other nutritional deficiencies can cause fatigue.

  • Thyroid disorders: Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) can result in fatigue.

  • Chronic infections: Certain infections can lead to ongoing fatigue.


How is adrenal fatigue treated?

To address fatigue, including signs of adrenal fatigue, it’s crucial to determine the specific cause through a comprehensive medical evaluation. Then treatment will then be tailored to address the underlying issue.

You also need to seek care from a naturopath practitioner who can guide a holistic approach to treat your adrenal fatigue.


Treatment for adrenal fatigue may include:

Lifestyle changes: Improving sleep habits, adopting a balanced diet, and managing stress.

Adding supplements such as vitamin C can also help improve adrenal function. These supplements for adrenal fatigue can help.

Treating underlying medical conditions: This could include medication for thyroid disorders or iron supplements for anemia.

Exercise: Regular physical activity can improve energy levels and overall well-being.

Psychological support: Addressing any underlying mental health issues that might be contributing to fatigue.


Final words about signs of adrenal fatigue

While adrenal fatigue is not universally accepted as a medical diagnosis, many individuals report experiencing a cluster of symptoms that align with adrenal fatigue.

Still, the hormones do not show adrenal insufficiency. 

These signs and symptoms, including persistent fatigue, difficulty coping with stress, mood swings, and sleep disturbances, can significantly impact your quality of life.

If you suspect you may be experiencing signs of adrenal fatigue, it’s essential to consult with a qualified healthcare professional to rule out any other underlying medical conditions and to develop an appropriate management plan.

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The best supplements for adrenal fatigue

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Nutrient deficiencies that cause fatigue

Signs and symptoms of adrenal fatigue