Is adrenal fatigue the same as Addison’s disease?
That’s the question we will address in this article. Let’s start with an overview of Addison’s disease.
You have adrenal glands lying on top of your kidneys. Your adrenal glands produce hormones required by your body for proper functioning.
Damage to the adrenal cortex is what causes Addison’s disease. An inability of the adrenal glands to produce steroid hormones in an adequate amount also causes Addison's disease. The hormones are aldosterone and cortisol.
Cortisol is your body’s primary stress hormone. It regulates how your body reacts to stressful conditions. Your adrenal cortex is also involved in the production of androgens (sex hormones).
Symptoms of Addison’s disease
The following symptoms are experienced by people with Addison’s disease:
- A weakness of the muscle
- Fatigue and tiredness
- Decreased appetite or weight loss
- The skin’s color darkens
- Reduced blood pressure or heart rate
- Fainting spells
- Low blood sugar levels
- Mouth sores
- Salt craving
People who have Addison’s disease usually experience symptoms of neuropsychiatric disorders, such as:
- Lack of energy
- Depression or irritability
- Sleep disturbances
If you fail to treat your Addison's disease on time, it can develop into an Addisonian crisis. Addisonian crisis is associated with symptoms such as:
- Auditory and visual hallucinations
Addisonian crisis is an emergency, one that can trigger fatal consequences. Call your doctor or visit an emergency unit if you experience the symptoms, which include:
- High fever
- Change in mental status, like restlessness, fear, or confusion
- Loss of consciousness
- Abdominal pain, or sudden pain in the legs and lower back
If the Addisonian crisis is left untreated, it can lead to death.
What’s the cause of Addison’s disease?
Addison’s disease is classified into two major categories: primary and secondary adrenal insufficiency. To treat your condition efficiently, your doctor will need to run checks to find out what type of crisis you’re having.
Primary adrenal insufficiency
This is caused by severe damage to the adrenal glands. The glands are so badly damaged that they are no longer capable of producing hormones. Primary adrenal insufficiency is an autoimmune condition. It happens when your adrenal glands are attacked by your immune system.
In an autoimmune condition, the person's immune system identifies any area or organ of the body as bacteria, viruses, or any external body. Of course, this is a mistake on the part of the immune system.
Other factors that may contribute to primary adrenal insufficiency include:
- body infections
- prolonged glucocorticoid administration (such as prednisone)
- abnormal growths and cancers
- some blood thinners that control blood clotting
Secondary adrenal insufficiency
This condition is caused by an inability of your pituitary gland to produce adrenocorticotropic hormone. Adrenocorticotropic hormone signals your adrenal glands when to secrete hormones.
A person may also develop adrenal insufficiency if they fail to adhere to their doctor’s prescriptions for corticosteroid medications. Corticosteroids help to put chronic health conditions under control.
Other factors may cause adrenal insufficiency. They include:
- traumatic brain injury
Risk factors for Addison’s disease
Your risk for having this condition may be high if you:
- are a cancer patient
- take blood thinners (anticoagulants)
- are infected with chronic conditions like tuberculosis
- have surgically removed any part of your adrenal gland
- have Grave's disease, type 1 diabetes, or any other autoimmune condition.
What differentiates Addison’s disease from adrenal fatigue?
It is simple!
Addison’s disease is an established and verified medical condition. On the contrary, Endocrinologists and other medical professionals believe that adrenal fatigue is not an accepted diagnosis in the medical field. It is a lay term that describes a collection of random symptoms such as fatigue, body aches, nervousness, digestive problems, and sleep disturbances.
Symptoms of the condition include:
- Craving sugar and salt
- Difficulty getting sleep and waking up
- Nonspecific digestive problems
- Reliance on caffeine and other stimulants
- Unexplained weight loss
- Loss of hair
The symptoms listed above are generic but could indicate some kind of medical disorder. Most symptoms, however, could also be caused by a hectic and busy life, poor sleep habits, bad nutrition, addiction to caffeine, or high-stress levels.
Adrenal fatigue is attributed to the "overworking" of the adrenal glands. The glands are activated during stress conditions. According to proponents of the condition, prolonged stress causes fatigue of the adrenal glands and they become unable to cope with the body's demands.
Diagnosing Addison’s disease and adrenal fatigue
For Addison's disease, your doctor will inquire about your medical history as well as the symptoms that you've experienced so far. He or she will perform a physical examination and also test for your sodium and potassium levels.
Imaging tests may be ordered, as well as the measurement of your hormone levels.
For adrenal fatigue:
Some alternative health practitioners might test your blood sample. Others may order a salivary cortisol testing to determine whether you have adrenal fatigue or not. However, because science hasn’t proven the existence of this illness, there are no clear-cut ways to diagnose it.
Proponents of the condition think that modern techniques are not sensitive enough to detect the diminished functioning of the glands, but that the body still experiences the effects.
Treatment for Addison’s disease
How you are treated will depend on what’s causing your condition. Your doctor may give you drugs that will help to regulate the functioning of your adrenal glands.
You must follow your doctor's plan for treatment. If left untreated, Addison's disease can metamorphose into the Addisonian crisis.
If you've left your condition untreated for a long time, and it has progressed into the Addisonian crisis, your doctor may give you medications to treat that.
The Addisonian crisis causes an increase in blood potassium levels, low blood pressure, and low levels of blood sugar.
How is adrenal fatigue treated?
Most times, a health condition may be the reason why your glands fail to produce adequate amounts of hormones.
If you are experiencing symptoms attributed to adrenal fatigue, you should first go to your doctor for an evaluation of your health status. Some health conditions that could contribute to or trigger the same symptoms include:
- Sleep apnea
- Heart problems
- Kidney disease
- Lung problems
- Autoimmune disease
- Irritable bowel syndrome
- Liver disease
If your doctor cannot give any biological reasons for your symptoms, he or she may consider the possibility of underlying mental health conditions, like:
- Reactions to stressful environment and lifestyle
Discuss with your doctor about the chances of many factors contributing to your symptoms. You may work together to formulate a personalized plan that would involve medications, counseling, supplements, and changes to one's lifestyle.
Addison’s disease may be managed for a lifetime. Symptoms can be managed with treatment like hormone replacement medications.
The key to living a productive life is following your doctor’s plan of treatment.
Never fail to take your medications as prescribed. Taking medications in excess, or taking too little of it can affect your health negatively.
There may be a need for reevaluation and change of treatment plan depending on your condition. This explains why you must see your doctor regularly.