“Whenever I type these symptoms into Google, it makes me even more confused.”
This was something my patient Mallory said to me once, and I’m sure so many of you can relate! First of all, the internet has a way of turning even the most minor aches and pains into the possibility of a rare and terrifying disease.
But beyond that, it’s difficult to find a “straight answer” about your symptoms online because so many symptoms can indicate so many different conditions.
Fatigue is a great example. This can be a symptom of pretty much any health condition or imbalance! This makes sense, though– when your body is fighting something, or when something is out of balance, it’s bound to put stress on your system and make you feel tired, no matter what it is.
With all of that in mind, symptoms do tell a story, especially when they’re grouped together. Today, I’m going to cover some of the most common symptoms of adrenal fatigue, as well as other clues that adrenal dysfunction may be present, and what you can do about it.
Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue — an “Aggravating Pattern”
Symptoms are your body’s way of informing you that it’s not receiving the support it needs. While none of these issues have a direct causal relationship with adrenal fatigue by themselves, a distinct “aggravating pattern” emerges when all these factors are taken into consideration. See if you recognize any symptoms of adrenal fatigue as tendencies you see in yourself.
Adrenal Fatigue 101
Our adrenal glands are responsible for producing and secreting numerous hormones, including the “stress hormone” cortisol. But what happens when they get too stressed?
There are so many daily stressors that send our adrenal glands a message to produce stress hormones. A wide range of physical and psychological demands like a stressful job, family responsibilities, relationship dynamics, lack of sleep, financial concerns, dieting, and emotional distress trigger our adrenals to provide relatively small blasts of strength in the form of hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. From waking us up with a little burst of energy in the morning, to keeping us awake, alert, and focused throughout the rest of the day, our adrenals are crucial to our health.
When our adrenal glands are constantly required to sustain high cortisol levels, they eventually become impaired in their ability to respond appropriately. The resulting dysfunction not only affects our short-term response to stress, but it also impairs our adrenals’ ability to produce and balance other hormones – DHEA, estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone – which are important to our long-term health and well-being.
Common Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue Include:
- Irregular blood pressure. High or low blood pressure is an indication that something isn’t right. Low blood pressure can often have the symptom of lightheadedness associated with it.
- Food cravings and abnormal weight changes. Changes in cravings and/or your weight can signal a problem. This particularly includes abnormal weight gain in the abdomen and thighs, and cravings for salty or sugary foods that sometimes feel uncontrollable.
- Spiraling energy. Are you unable to stop, always on speed forward? Or do you have ongoing fatigue, lack of stamina, and feel “tired and wired” much of the time? Do you lack “get up and go?” If your energy levels are all over the place, it’s time to pay attention.
- Unstable emotions and coping ability. Emotional challenges might include an inability to deal with day to day stress, feeling overwhelmed much of the time, struggling to get through the day, being too driven, having a very “short fuse,” anxiety attacks, and/or an inability to reframe your thinking.
- Fuzzy thinking. Intellectual signs to watch out for include being mentally foggy, having fuzzy thinking, an inability to stay focused on one task, and chronic racing thoughts.
- Decreased immune response. Is your body fighting off frequent infections? Does it take you longer than others to recover from illness, infections, or trauma? Compromised immune function can signify an issue with your adrenal glands.
- Difficulty Sleeping. Sleep issues may include an inability to fall asleep, falling asleep easily but waking up nightly, and sleeping soundly but waking up exhausted.
- Hormonal and Libido Fluctuations. You may notice hormonal difficulties such as worsening of perimenopausal symptoms, low libido, or severe PMS.
Note that these are not the only possible symptoms of adrenal dysfunction. Since your adrenals and the hormones they produce affect virtually every part of your body, it’s possible for adrenal fatigue to manifest itself in countless ways. However, these are some of the most common ones– and if none of these symptoms sound like you, there’s a good chance that something else is going on.
Similarly, while these issues can indicate adrenal dysfunction, remember that there are many other conditions that exhibit the same symptoms. You can’t know for sure that adrenal imbalance is the root cause based on these symptoms, but you also shouldn’t ignore the possibility.
Other Clues You May Have Adrenal Fatigue
If you have a few of the symptoms listed above, but you’re not sure whether or not adrenal fatigue is the cause, there are a number of other signs and factors you can look out for. The following are clues that your symptoms might be related to adrenal dysfunction:
- You have multiple adrenal fatigue symptoms. Adrenal fatigue looks a little bit different for everyone, and not all patients will experience all of the same symptoms. But the more classic adrenal fatigue symptoms you have, the more likely it is that this really is the cause.
- You’ve been experiencing a lot of stress. Chronic stress is thought to be the key contributing factor to adrenal dysfunction. So, if you’ve been experiencing a significant amount of stress over the last few months or even years, this may increase the likelihood that adrenal fatigue is behind your symptoms.
- You have other risk factors for adrenal fatigue. Beyond what we tend to think of as stress (dealing with a high pressure job or a family crisis, for example), there are all kinds of other factors that can put stress on your adrenals. These include exposure to environmental toxins, nutritional deficiencies, and chronic use of certain medications.
- Your energy levels follow a distinct pattern. One of the key differentiating factors between adrenal dysfunction and fatigue caused by other conditions is the pattern your energy levels follow. Do you find that you wake up exhausted, feel a bit more energized by lunchtime, crash around 3 or 4, and then feel “wired” when it’s actually time for bed? If you do, there’s a good chance something is up with your adrenals.
Adrenal Fatigue Can Mirror (Or Contribute To) Other Conditions
There are all kinds of other common health conditions and imbalances that can cause symptoms like fatigue and brain fog, making it challenging to pinpoint adrenal dysfunction as the cause.
But adrenal imbalance can also be a contributing factor to a wide range of medical conditions, many of which may seem unrelated, including the following:
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Depression and anxiety
- IBS or chronic digestive problems
- Premature menopause
- Chronic anxiety
- Rage attacks
And there are many health conditions, as well as the drugs used to treat them, which can predispose an individual toward adrenal insufficiency.
So, even if it turns out that you have one of these other conditions, it’s still worth looking into your adrenal function in order to truly get to the root of your symptoms and heal.
It Never Hurts to Support Your Adrenals
If you’re experiencing what you think may be symptoms of adrenal fatigue, the good news is that there are all kinds of natural treatment approaches that can help. Most of these treatment strategies are just plain healthy, even if you don’t have adrenal fatigue. And if you do have adrenal dysfunction, they can help get you on your way back to wellness.
A few of the best ways to support your adrenals naturally include:
- Eating an anti-inflammatory diet
- Reducing exposure to environmental toxins
- Supporting your mind-body connecting with a meditative practice
- Getting regular, moderate exercise
- Introducing herbal support as needed
Final Thoughts on Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue
The list of symptoms of adrenal fatigue can be a little overwhelming. However, both knowledge and awareness of these symptoms can go a long way if you’re someone who is currently suffering from adrenal fatigue. The great news is, when addressed early and with proper support, you can heal adrenal imbalances and reverse the toxic effects of chronic stress. To learn more, see our articles on the natural approach to adrenal health.
Click here to take our Adrenal Health Quiz to check your symptoms.
Reviewed by Dr. Mark Menolascino, MD