Adrenal Fatigue Symptoms 101
We all experience fatigue from time to time. This is due to the prevalent busy lifestyle adopted by many, especially in the urban jungle. Stress from work and different events of our lives accumulate unnoticeably, until one morning, you felt so weak and lethargic without any particular reason at all. But here is the catch though; when fatigue seems to recur often and significantly affects you not just physically but also mentally, perhaps this is not just ordinary fatigue that you've been dealing with. You might be experiencing one of the symptoms of adrenal fatigue. This medical condition baffled not only ordinary individuals but even medical experts today.
But what do we need to know about adrenal fatigue for us to take the proper action in treating this condition? What are its symptoms and if there is an underlying connection between this and other conditions that you must watch out for?
Adrenal fatigue is a term that you can usually hear being coined by naturopaths or individuals who are immersed in the study of alternative medicine using natural and non-invasive treatments for different diseases. Dr James Wilson defines this condition as a syndrome that occurs when our adrenal glands suddenly drop their function levels below their average capabilities. If you recall your science class, adrenals are a pair of organs responsible for releasing the hormone called cortisol in the body. Cortisol is essential in stabilizing blood sugar levels, regulating our metabolism, and even managing our blood pressure and balancing salt and water in your body.
According to the theory behind adrenal fatigue, when you are experiencing stress (whether physical, mental, or emotional), your adrenals release a hefty dose of cortisol in your body in a short period. Now, if this stress continues to affect our body in the long run, there is a possibility that our adrenals will run out of cortisol to produce in our body to fight the effects of stress. Low cortisol leads to various symptoms, such as being lightheaded, sleepiness, depression, and low energy. You can't do your work effectively as if you found yourself lacking the motivation to do them. These are considered the early signs that you might be having adrenal fatigue. Frequently, this condition may lead to other more severe illnesses involving your respiratory or pulmonary system such as pneumonia or bronchitis.
People who are considered to be susceptible to adrenal fatigue are those who usually work under shifting schedules, single parents, and even people with problems with alcohol and drug dependency. In general, individuals with stressful work have a high probability of acquiring this condition as well as anyone who underwent traumatic episodes in their life.
Adrenal Fatigue: A Real Medical Condition?
But before you jump into conclusions, endocrinologists (medical experts when it comes to our endocrine glands and hormones) have already debunked adrenal fatigue and categorically stated that this is not a genuine medical condition at all. There are no scientific studies yet that linked fatigue to any kind of existing adrenal problem. The common symptoms of adrenal fatigue are somewhat too general that they can also be applied to other illnesses like sleep apnea, hypothyroidism or fibromyalgia. Moreover, there is no verified diagnosis for adrenal fatigue yet, even after decades of claims by the believers of adrenal fatigue that medical practitioners can find a way sooner or later to recognized as a legitimate medical condition. There is still no evidence or on-going studies to support their claims.
However, there are real and recognized medical conditions and disorders that affect your adrenal glands. These include some of the following:
These are usually signs of carcinoma or malignant tumours which are considered cancerous.
Adrenal glands not only produce cortisol but also provide other vital hormones such as aldosterone. Hypoaldosteronismis a condition when adrenal glands produce an insufficient amount of aldosterone which is responsible for managing the sodium and potassium levels of your body.
This the exact opposite of adrenal fatigue wherein your adrenal gland release too much cortisol which is caused by a tumour that grows in your pituitary gland.
Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia
This is a kind of disorder that happens when a mutation affects the gene that is necessary for the creation or production of cortisol. Since it is congenital, it drastically changes an infant's sex characteristic, be it secondary or primary.
This is also known as Addison disease which is described as the decrease in the amounts of both cortisol and aldosterone caused by problems in the adrenal glands. It can be acute or chronic, and its degree of seriousness may range from mild to life-threatening.
Though not directly connected, this genetic condition leads to the deterioration of myelin sheets that surround the nerves of the body. This can cause adrenal insufficiency as fatty acids start to accumulate in the adrenal glands.
Adrenal deficiency or Addison’s disease is among the legitimate medical problems that has a striking similarity with adrenal fatigue. The usual cause of this condition is due to damage in the adrenal glands which leads to insufficient or lack of hormones like cortisol. Other possible causes of adrenal Insufficiency include adrenal hemorrhage, which happens in individuals with bleeding diathesis or if they are taking any anticoagulant drugs. Adrenal insufficiency also occurs because of high radiation exposure to the brain or the pituitary gland, brain tumours, and sudden withdrawal from exogenous steroids for a long time. There also some events that show proof that adrenal insufficiency can be a congenital problem or can be caused even by other genetic conditions.
Experts categorized adrenal insufficiency into three types: primary, secondary, and tertiary. The primary type occurs when your adrenal glands are damaged due to several factors that affect the release of corticosteroids. The secondary type, on the other hand, includes the shrinking of your adrenal gland caused by a problem with your pituitary gland that affects signaling to your adrenal glands to produce corticosteroids. Lastly, the tertiary type happens when your hypothalamus stops producing corticotropin-releasing hormone that signals the pituitary gland to release adrenocorticotropin (ACTH), which is responsible for triggering cortisol production in your adrenal glands.
Individuals who have adrenal insufficiency often have the following signs and symptoms:
Loss of appetite
Depression and irritability
Amenorrhea and thinning of pubic and axillary hair,particularly in women
If left untreated, adrenal insufficiency may lead you to experience adrenal crisis which can be dangerous to your body. The following are the common symptoms of someone who is under an adrenal crisis:
Intense pain in the abdomen, legs and the lower back
Loss of consciousness
Severe to terminal vomiting and diarrhea
Adrenal Fatigue Symptoms
Below are adrenal fatigue symptoms as claimed by the proponents of the theory behind the above-mentioned medical condition:
Having problems getting good sleep and even waking upin the middle of the night
Salt and sugar cravings
As you noticed, adrenal insufficiency and adrenal fatigue share a lot of similarities when it comes to symptoms. But since endocrinologists don't recognize adrenal fatigue, most of these symptoms are usually connected to adrenal insufficiency instead. Likewise, these symptoms are not only limited to adrenal problems. An individual who lacks sleep, has an imbalanced diet and are dependant on too much caffeine may also display such symptoms.
Other related conditions that share the same symptoms with adrenal fatigue include anemia, hormonal problems, autoimmune diseases, heart problems, and kidney diseases. Many experts suggest that since the symptoms can be linked with many medical conditions, a thorough check-up must be done by your physician before you can pinpoint what causes the sudden fatigue you've been experiencing.
Naturopaths usually conduct blood or salivary tests to measure the amount of cortisol in one's body. Others often rely on the symptoms alone to create their diagnosis, which is somewhat dangerous, especially there are no scientific facts yet that support the legitimacy of adrenal fatigue as a valid medical condition. However, adrenal insufficiency, on the other hand, can be detected via blood tests to check whether you have low cortisol and other hormones released by your adrenal glands.
But due to the complex nature of the symptoms, a particular simulation test may also be conducted to have better and accurate results when it comes to diagnosis. An ACTH stimulation test is sometimes undertaken to identify whether the cause of adrenal insufficiency is peripheral or central. Experts also keep an eye on the levels of anti-21-hydroxylase antibodies which are known to be among the triggers of adrenal cortex's damage. Adrenal insufficiency sometimes occurs because of a secondary cause from other conditions like HIV and tuberculosis.
Even if there is hardly any scientific evidence to prove that adrenal fatigue is a real medical condition, there are a host of medications that are being promoted by naturopaths to treat the said conditions. These are the following treatment that can be done or might be prescribed to anyone who was experiencing adrenal fatigue symptoms:
Adrenal Fatigue Diet
Alternative medicine practitioner highly recommends following a healthy and balanced diet to counter adrenal fatigue. The common foods that you must include for your anti-adrenal fatigue diet include those with high protein content, vegetables, and whole grains. Herbal supplements can also be included in your daily meal, such as Siberian Ginseng, Maca root, and licorice root. It is also suggested that you should avoid foods that are considered unhealthy such as processed foods, too much caffeine, fried foods, and foods or beverages containing high amounts of sugar. This diet should also be complemented with avoidance of certain bad habits that can be catalysts to adrenal fatigue, such as smoking, taking illegal drugs, and alcohol.
Vitamins and Supplements
One of the joint supplements that are given to those who show signs of adrenal fatigue is an adrenal hormone supplement to augment the production of hormones of the adrenal glands. But be cautious when taking these supplements, especially if you are not so sure if you need taking them. There is an excellent chance that it can damage your adrenal gland in the process and may lead to a complete shut down of this gland, thus making it unable to release hormones when you need them most. This will happen if you are taking such supplements for adrenal fatigue without proper guidance from your physician. Sudden cessation of taking adrenal hormone supplements may also cause an adrenal crisis which is among the life-threatening conditions involving your adrenal glands.
If you want a safer supplement, proponents of adrenal fatigue suggest taking vitamin B5, B12, and B6 as well as significant amounts of vitamin C and magnesium which you can buy from your local drugstore. Take note, however, that you should still seek the recommendations of your doctor before taking these supplements, knowing that adrenal fatigue is considered an unaccepted disease or condition.
Adrenal Insufficiency Treatment
If by chance, you are diagnosed with adrenal insufficiency or Addison's disease, the typical treatment that you will undergo is hormone replacement by taking oral corticosteroids. These include prednisone or hydrocortisone to augment your cortisol levels. If the hormone you are lacking is aldosterone, you will be given fludrocortisone acetate to replenish it. These can be bought from the drugstore provided you have a prescription from your doctor.
At some point, when it becomes too severe, surgery may be required to stop the development of adrenal insufficiency. During this period, glucocorticoids will be given to you after the surgery.
Some of you might be wondering what to do if you have some of the symptoms of adrenal fatigue. The best thing to do when you have adrenal fatigue symptoms is to keep constant communication with your doctors to help you identify what indeed causes your fatigue. Avoid taking drugs and supplements by yourself and stop doing self-diagnosis using the internet. Fatigue is a real deal but knowing the reason behind it will be critical in understanding the safest and correct treatment to resolve it. Always take extra precautions whenever you are seeking medical advice from someone, especially they have no particular medical background. As a rule of thumb, when you are sick, always ask your trusted doctor before embarking into some treatment you came across the internet.