What Is Adrenal Fatigue? Watch for These Symptoms

Adrenal gland dysfunction is largely overlooked in conventional medicine, and yet it is pervasive and contributes to dozens of health problems. Here's how to know whether you have it—and if so, what to do about it.

adrenal fatigue

Weakness, depression, apathy, and feeling constantly tired are among the symptoms of adrenal fatigue.

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Are you besieged by fatigue plus one or more nagging other problems, such as insomnia, weight gain, or depression? If so, you could be suffering from adrenal fatigue.

Specific lab tests are available to confirm an adrenal dysfunction problem, but just knowing the typical adrenal fatigue symptoms is often quite sufficient to confirm it as the likely root cause of your issues.

If you see your own symptoms matching that of the typical “textbook” symptoms, then you can begin to take some straightforward natural healing steps to strengthen your adrenal glands and restore balance to your system. Not only will your energy level return, but you may be amazed to see your sleep problems and depression and other issues go away as well.

What is Adrenal Fatigue?

Adrenal fatigue, or hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis dysfunction, is a major underlying cause of many seemingly unrelated chronic health problems, and it is often misdiagnosed. We want to explore here what adrenal fatigue is and what symptoms are typical in individuals who suffer from it.

Adrenal fatigue symptoms are more appropriately referred to as symptoms of poorly functioning HPA axis. The HPA axis is your body’s hormonal response system to chronic stress. “HPA” refers to three hormone-secreting glands, the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland in the brain, and the adrenal glands, which sit on top of the kidneys.

Situations that are new, unpredictable, threatening, or uncontrollable activate the HPA axis to mobilize energy necessary to adapt to the demands of the situation.

When your body is bombarded by repeated stressful situations and prolonged stress responses, you pay a price. Your HPA axis can start to under-react or overreact to stress, or may function in inappropriate rhythms. This, in turn, taxes your body’s nervous, hormonal, immune, metabolic, and cardiovascular systems, causing fatigue, insomnia, and a variety of other physical and psychological symptoms that are generally known as adrenal fatigue symptoms or hpa dysfunction symptoms.

Adrenal Fatigue Symptoms

HPA axis dysfunction symptoms are caused by stress and can include a feeling of persistent, excessive tiredness and a lack of energy that just doesn’t seem to go away no matter how much sleep you get. In addition to fatigue, adrenal fatigue symptoms include one or more of the following:

  • Weakness
  • Muscle pain
  • Joint pain
  • Sore throat
  • Headaches
  • Dizziness upon standing
  • Increased heart rate
  • Appetite changes
  • Bowel/stool changes
  • Abdominal pain
  • Depression
  • Apathy
  • Irritability
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty with memory
  • Confusion
  • Anxiety
  • Sleepiness

Many studies have examined the relationship between adrenal fatigue anxiety, stress, HPA-axis activity, and fatigue. People with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), for instance, report experiencing significantly higher levels of stress. Studies have found that those with CFS do, indeed, have significantly more exposure to stressors.

In patients with CFS, dysfunction of the HPA axis (characterized by lower-than-normal cortisol secretion) is one of the hallmark features, and studies have shown that the lower the cortisol levels, the more severe the fatigue and other symptoms.

Conditions Related to HPA Axis Dysfunction

In addition to chronic fatigue syndrome, a number of other fatigue-related conditions, such as fibromyalgia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and some types of depression, are associated with stress and a poorly functioning HPA axis. Other conditions related to HPA axis dysfunction and associated with adrenal fatigue symptoms include:

Even in those who are otherwise healthy, studies have found that if you perceive yourself to be highly stressed, you are much more likely to suffer from greater fatigue, sleep problems, and other adrenal fatigue symptoms. For example, work-related stress—as caused by over-commitment, lack of social support, high demands, lack of control, and lack of rewards—has been shown in studies to drain energy resources and cause fatigue.

So it’s clear here that unrelenting stress can and does have a direct physiologic effect on the body. Your HPA axis becomes dysfunctional and the end result is the occurrence of these bothersome adrenal fatigue symptoms.

How to Fix Adrenal Fatigue

The key to overcoming your adrenal fatigue symptoms is to break the dysfunctional HPA axis cycle, getting the hypothalamus, pituitary, and adrenal glands re-balanced and working in harmony again. This is where natural and integrative approaches really shine.

What works best for treating adrenal fatigue symptoms is a holistic approach involving diet, sleep, relaxation, exercise, and supplements. Pharmaceutical intervention is typically not necessary. Find stress management techniques here and effective ways to de-stress here.

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Originally published in 2012, this blog has been updated.

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  • For anyone looking at this page – worth pointing out that Adrenal Fatigue is actually an unproven ‘theory’ and is not a genuine condition that can be diagnosed. You can find this out by Googling the term – if you look on a reliable website like the Mayo Clinic they’ll tell you this. However some of the symptoms may be very real, just a warning not to be taken in by all of the information you find online!

  • Actually before believing the comment from IH, have a look at the references which are listed. The references indicate that prolonged stress affects the HPA axis, and low cortisol levels are associated with stress and fatigue. It takes a long, long time for scientific research to become accepted by the established medical community.
    I am unsure why so many people are against adrenal fatigue – treating it is not dangerous at all and could well be beneficial.

  • As a true syndrome, this does not exist in traditional medicine. In alternative medicine, it is a major money maker in the supplements, adjustments and repeated procedures to reset your HPA. From a traditional medicine point of few it is very easy to demonstrate normal functioning adrenal glands by conventional biochemical testing and 99% of the time it is intend just that normal. Sure patients present with Addison’s Disease and Cushing’s Syndrome but these are much more than “adrenal fatigue”. The good nutrition, regular exercise, maintaining a health body weight and even improving one’s physical fitness are all goals for all of us. Supplements and other alternative approaches are just unproven. Scientific papers do not make facts. Not one national medical organization recognizes this as a known syndrome. It is and remains in the world of alternative medicine as does many fad diets, supplements and alike. Beware consumers.

  • Traditional medicine is the biggest money maker of all time. And being able to scientifically prove is the big stick held over our heads. So many health problems are listed as ’cause unknown ‘ in traditional medicine but yet it claims authority in determining what treatments must be accepted. Fact is, neither side is above question or reproach. Individuals need to weigh both sides and see what works for you.

  • I am just wondering if this might be connected to what I experience.
    I am 63 and on Bioidentical Hormones. I experience rapid heart and heated body when I need to void, bladder or bowel. It will wake me up at night and I pee and then back to bed and all is gone. I may turn over in bed and I experience the same feeling till I void. It happens in the day also and I have asked doctors and no one knows except for 1 doctor mumbled, pituitary gland maybe..but that was it.
    Do you have any comments on this. Your opinion matters to me.
    Thank you Sher

  • This hits the nail on the head for me. The neurologist and cardiologist’s i saw were all pointing to stress response after they did thorough investigations over a 12 month period of panic attacks which came on suddenly at age 48. Lifestyle changes have improved my situation but still wonder if you can ever fully get your HPA axis in sync again!!!

  • All these people commenting that HPA axis is “not real” then I ask them, then what the heck is going on with all these people who claim adrenal fatigue??? You telling me it is all in their head??? There is SOMETHING going on with them and the traditional medical people laugh at them!

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