What is adrenal fatigue?
‘Adrenal fatigue’ is a term used by alternative health practitioners to explain why some people constantly feel tired. However, it is not an accepted medical diagnosis.
The adrenal glands sit on top of each kidney. Their role is to produce hormones, including adrenaline and noradrenaline, both of which are used to prepare the body for fight or flight.
Some people believe that when the adrenal glands are overworked through exposure to stressful situations, they don’t produce enough of these hormones. The theory first came from a chiropractor in 1998. However, there is no scientific evidence that this condition exists.
There can be many reasons why people feel tired all the time and therefore it is often not easy to pinpoint a cause.
If you are told you have adrenal fatigue, it’s important to check with your doctor that there isn’t another cause of your tiredness. Some supplements given to people to treat adrenal fatigue might be dangerous for them.
What are the symptoms of adrenal fatigue?
The term adrenal fatigue is used to describe a collection of symptoms, such as:
- body aches
- low blood pressure
- sleep disturbances
- digestive issues
- craving salt and sugar
Your adrenal glands sit on top of each kidney. Their role is to produce hormones, including adrenaline and noradrenaline, both of which are used to prepare your body for fight or flight.
Some people believe that when the adrenal glands are overworked they don’t produce enough of these hormones. The theory first came from a chiropractor in 1998. However, there is no scientific evidence that this condition exists.
CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.
How is adrenal fatigue treated?
Your alternative health practitioner may treat adrenal fatigue by recommending that you quit alcohol, drugs, caffeine, and cigarettes, eat certain foods, exercise more and get more sleep. All of this advice should make you feel better.
Some practitioners may recommend you take supplements and vitamins for adrenal fatigue. Always check with your doctor before you take supplements in case they are harmful for you or might react with your other medicines.
If you have unexplained fatigue or exhaustion that doesn’t go away, see your doctor. Your doctor will probably ask you about your symptoms and run some tests to rule out other health problems. Treating an underlying issue, such as iron deficiency or a low thyroid level, can help reverse fatigue.
Other conditions that affect the adrenal glands
Certain conditions, such adrenal insufficiency (called Addison’s disease), can prevent your adrenal glands from making enough hormones. Addison’s disease is a rare but serious disease.
The symptoms of Addison’s disease include fatigue, body aches, unexplained weight loss, low blood pressure, lightheadedness, loss of body hair and skin discolouration.
Addison’s disease is recognised by doctors and can be detected through blood tests that show insufficient hormone levels. On the other hand, these tests are often normal in people who are told they have adrenal fatigue.
Other causes of fatigue
There are many causes of your symptoms. It could be due to your lifestyle, for example:
- too much work
- family life
- lack of sleep
- too little or too much physical activity
- not eating a healthy diet
- alcohol use or misuse
- mental health — such as anxiety and depression
There are many physical illnesses that cause unexplained fatigue. These include thyroid problems, diabetes, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, cancer, anaemia, kidney or liver disease, infections, heart disease or multiple sclerosis.
What are my options?
Generally, having a healthy lifestyle may help with relieving fatigue. Some self-help tips to try include:
- getting enough every day — most adults need 6-8 hours
- reducing stress through activities you find relaxing
- cutting down on alcohol
- getting enough rest if you have been doing too much physical activity, or getting more active if you have been sedentary
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Last reviewed: December 2020