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Adrenal fatigue

4-minute read

Key facts

  • Adrenal fatigue is a term used to explain a condition caused by chronic (long-term) exposure to stressful situations.
  • Adrenal fatigue is not currently an accepted medical diagnosis.
  • It’s important to check with your doctor that there isn’t another cause for your tiredness.

What is adrenal fatigue?

Adrenal fatigue is a term used by alternative health practitioners to explain tiredness and other symptoms which are thought to be due to chronic (long-term) exposure to stressful situations. However, it currently is not a recognised medical diagnosis. Many studies have failed to prove that adrenal fatigue is a medical condition.

Adrenal insufficiency

Your adrenal glands sit on top of each kidney. Their role is to produce hormones, including adrenaline and noradrenaline. These hormones prepare your body for fight or flight. Adrenal insufficiency (also called Addison’s disease), is a recognised medical condition when your adrenal glands don’t make enough hormones. This can be due to disease or surgery. Addison’s disease is a rare but serious disease.

Some people think that adrenal fatigue is a mild form of adrenal insufficiency.

Addison’s disease can be diagnosed through blood tests that show low levels of adrenal hormones. These tests are usually normal in people who are told they have adrenal fatigue.

The symptoms of Addison’s disease are:

  • fatigue (tiredness)
  • body aches
  • unexplained weight loss
  • low blood pressure
  • light headedness
  • loss of body hair
  • skin discolouration

What are the symptoms of adrenal fatigue?

The main symptom of adrenal fatigue is tiredness. Other symptoms can be:

  • trouble falling asleep
  • trouble waking up
  • salt and sugar craving
  • weight gain

These symptoms are common with lots of other conditions. It’s important to discuss these symptoms with your doctor to try to find a cause.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

What causes adrenal fatigue?

Adrenal fatigue is thought to be caused by ‘overuse’ of the adrenal glands. This is thought to be due to ongoing exposure to:

  • mental stress
  • emotional stress
  • physical stress

The theory of adrenal fatigue was first introduced in 1998 by a chiropractor. However, at the moment there is no scientific evidence that this condition exists.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have unexplained fatigue or adrenal fatigue, check with your doctor that there isn’t another cause for your tiredness.

Your doctor will probably ask you about your symptoms and run some tests to rule out other health problems.

You may have another underlying health issue, such as:

There can be many reasons why people feel tired all the time. It’s often not easy to find a cause.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

How is adrenal fatigue diagnosed?

There are no specific tests for adrenal fatigue. Blood tests of your hormone levels will usually be normal.

If you have unexplained fatigue or exhaustion that doesn’t go away, see your doctor.

How is adrenal fatigue treated?

Although adrenal fatigue isn’t a recognised medical condition, you may be advised to:

  • eat a healthy diet
  • exercise more
  • get more sleep
  • give up smoking, alcohol and drugs, including caffeine

This advice should help you to feel better.

Some practitioners may recommend you take supplements for adrenal fatigue. Always check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking new supplements. Make sure that they don’t react with your other medicines. In some cases, supplements may be harmful or dangerous.

Resources and support

To find out more about adrenal fatigue you can call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: April 2023

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