As you might expect, fatigue is one of the most common Adrenal Fatigue symptoms. However it is far from the only one that we see. Adrenal Fatigue leads to lower levels of a number of hormones, and those hormones can affect every part of our bodies. So every case of adrenal fatigue tends to present itself slightly differently, although there are always common complaints.
You can split up Adrenal Fatigue symptoms into two sets. The most common symptoms are those that are experienced by most (if not all) Adrenal Fatigue sufferers. On the other hand, the less common symptoms are only experienced by a smaller set of patients. Typically, a patient presenting with Adrenal Fatigue will have most or all of the common symptoms listed here, along with a handful of the less common symptoms. Take a look and see how many apply to you.
Difficulty getting up each morning, even after a long sleep
One of the major causes of Adrenal Fatigue is getting insufficient sleep, and getting more slumber is also one of the best ways to recover. However, when suffering from Adrenal Fatigue many patients wake up extremely tired and ‘foggy’ even after getting a long sleep.
This can be caused by one of two factors. Adrenal Fatigue sufferers in the early stages of their condition tend to be under significant stress, and therefore their adrenaline and cortisol levels are high. This interrupts the natural 24-hour cycle of cortisol levels, leading to a state of permanent alertness that prevents restful sleep.
Those Adrenal Fatigue sufferers who are at a later stage in their condition will have consistently lower levels of cortisol. However, their blood sugar will tend to be much lower during the early morning (cortisol regulates blood sugar too). Your body realizes it’s hungry and forces you to wake up. Many Adrenal Fatigue sufferers are chronic late-night snackers for exactly this reason.
High levels of fatigue each day
In the later stages of Adrenal Fatigue, your adrenals become unable to produce enough of the hormones that you need. This means that your levels of cortisol, along with neurotransmitters like adrenaline and norepinephrine, are lower than they should be.
The relative lack of these crucial hormones explains how patients suffering from Adrenal Fatigue find it difficult to ‘lift’ themselves or maintain any kind of reasonable energy level throughout the day. There is one exception though (see below) – Adrenal Fatigue sufferers sometimes experience a bounce in energy in the late evening.
Inability to handle stress
Adrenal Fatigue sufferers often have a difficult time dealing with physical or emotional stress. This is for exactly the same reasons that are behind that unrelenting feeling of tiredness – the low hormone levels associated with late-stage Adrenal Fatigue.
When we encounter stress we depend on our adrenals to release hormones like cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine. These hormones regulate our stress response and allow us to increase our strength, focus and awareness when we need it. However, when the adrenals are fatigued they struggle to release the necessary amount of these hormones. Patients with Adrenal Fatigue often report a lack of enthusiasm, feelings of apathy or disinterest, irritability and anxiety.
Cravings for salty foods
A part of the adrenals named the cortex is responsible for producing aldosterone, a mineralocorticoid which works with the kidney to regulate our fluid and mineral excretion. When the adrenals become fatigued, we produce less aldosterone and we tend to excrete large amounts of important minerals in our urine. Individuals with depleted endocrine systems often report frequent urination, which is often attributed to age but may actually be caused by depleted adrenals.
This means that Adrenal Fatigue sufferers effectively lose the ability to balance the levels of minerals like sodium, potassium and magnesium in their blood. In turn, this leads to cravings for foods which will replace the sodium that we have lost. If you find yourself suddenly craving salty snacks, you could be suffering from Adrenal Fatigue.
Higher energy levels in the evenings
The lower levels of cortisol can play havoc with our energy levels throughout the day. In a healthy person, cortisol reaches its highest level early in the morning before declining gradually throughout the day. However, some Adrenal Fatigue sufferers experience spikes in cortisol in the late afternoon and evening.
A typical progression is to find yourself tired all day, then suddenly get a bounce in your energy levels late in the evening. This tends to occur in the earlier stages of Adrenal Fatigue, when the adrenals are still capable of producing significant amounts of cortisol and adrenaline.
A weakened immune system
Cortisol has an anti-inflammatory effect that helps to regulate your immune system. Inflammation is often simply a sign that your body is fighting an infection, but cortisol prevents this reaction from getting out of control. Maintaining a balanced cortisol level – not too low and not too high – is an important part of our health.
If stress is causing your cortisol levels to be elevated, this anti-inflammatory effect becomes too strong. This effectively stops your immune system from working as it should, and this weakened state can last for the duration of whatever is causing the stress. Without a properly functioning immune system, you become vulnerable to disease. Conversely, a lower level of cortisol allows your immune system to over-react to pathogens. This can lead to chronic inflammation and a number of respiratory or auto-immune diseases.
So what does this mean for Adrenal Fatigue sufferers? It depends on which stage of the condition you have reached. In the early stages, consistently high levels of cortisol suppresses your immune response and leaves you vulnerable to infection. In the later stages of Adrenal Fatigue, low levels of cortisol can lead to chronic inflammation, allergies and autoimmune diseases. Neither is a good outcome, and so your Adrenal Fatigue treatment should focus on restoring cortisol to a sustainable, balanced level.
There are a large number of other complaints that are associated with Adrenal Fatigue. Many of these are linked directly to one of the more common complaints listed above. Depending on which stage of Adrenal Fatigue you have reached, you may be experiencing a handful or a large number of these symptoms.
- Asthma, allergies or respiratory complaints
- Dark circles under the eyes
- Dry skin
- Extreme tiredness an hour after exercise
- Morning/evening fatigue
- Frequent urination
- Joint pain/Arthritis
- Bone Loss
- Chemical Sensitivities
- Lines in your fingertips
- Loss of muscle tone
- Low blood pressure
- Low blood sugar/high blood sugar
- Increased abdominal fat
- Memory lapses
- Sleep disturbances
- Sugar craving
- Low sex drive
- Lower back pain
- Numbness in your fingers / Poor circulation
- Weight gain
The adrenal glands produce three types of steroid hormones: glucocorticoids (cortisol), mineralocorticoids (aldosterone), and androgens (DHEA/DHEAS). Cortisol enables the body to respond and adapt to the stresses of daily life. It also helps to maintain blood sugar levels and promote a healthy immune system. Aldosterone works to balance salt and water in the body. Androgens secreted by the adrenals provide the majority of DHEA for both men and women. For women, the adrenal glands are the major source of testosterone. Imbalances in the adrenal system can contribute to problems with the nervous and immune systems, body composition difficulties, blood sugar irregularities, and high androgen levels.
Download, print and complete the Symptoms Checklist (PDF) to take to your healthcare provider. If you need help locating a healthcare practitioner who can further assess hormone imbalances you may be experiencing, go to ZRT’s Find A Provider Locator .