Are you besieged by fatigue plus one or more of other nagging problems such as insomnia, weight gain, or depression? If so, you very possibly suffer from adrenal fatigue. Some 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 straight forward 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. Adrenal fatigue 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 (hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal 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- or over-react to stress, or 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.
Adrenal fatigue symptoms (symptoms of HPA axis dysfunction) caused by stress 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:
Adrenal Fatigue Symptoms:
- Muscle pain
- Joint pain
- Sore throat
- Dizziness upon standing
- Increased heart rate
- Appetite changes
- Bowel/stool changes
- Abdominal pain
- Sleep disturbances
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty with memory
Many studies have examined the relationship between stress, HPA-axis activity, and fatigue. People with chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), for instance, report experiencing significantly higher levels of stress; and 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.
In addition to CFS, 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:
Conditions Related to HPA Axis Dysfunction:
- Anorexia nervosa
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- Panic disorder
- Chronic, active alcoholism
- Diabetes mellitus
- Central obesity (metabolic syndrome)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Premenstrual tension syndrome
- Postpartum period
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Asthma, eczema
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. Work-related stress, for example, such as stress caused by over-commitment, lack of social support, high demands, lack of control, and lack of rewards, have all been shown in studies to drain energy resources and cause fatigue. So it is 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.
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. To learn more about specific treatments for adrenal fatigue symptoms and HPA axis dysfunction, view our comprehensive guide: Fatigue Causes and Relief: Natural Remedies for Excessive Tiredness and Chronic Fatigue.
Originally published in 2012, this blog has been updated.