The 4 Essential Adrenal Exhaustion Symptoms You Should Know

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH

If you have tiredness or fatigue and you don’t understand why, these are some of the most common Adrenal Exhaustion SymptomsAdrenal fatigue can cause a number of subtle, confusing, and seemingly unconnected symptoms. It often results in people not understanding their condition and not getting the help they need to recover. In fact, if you’ve experienced some of these symptoms, you may think they’re just a side effect of having a busy, full life. And if this continues over the long term, it can lead to the advanced stages of Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS), which can actually be life threatening. To make it easier for you to tell if you have these issues, there are four important symptoms that you need to know: chronic tiredness, declining mental health, salt cravings with low blood pressure, and weight gain

What is AFS?

In short, AFS is caused by excessive stress that continues over a prolonged period of time. The body just isn’t designed to cope with this kind of strain, and the system that usually copes with stress, called the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) stress response, can start to fail. The first place this shows is in the adrenal glands, which are a key part of the NEM stress response and excrete more than 50 essential hormones that are needed for various functions in your body. The most important in this context is cortisol, which is known as the stress hormone and protects the body from the harmful effects of stress and helps it to react properly to the cause of the stress. When the adrenals become fatigued, they struggle to keep up with the demand for cortisol and this can cause widespread problems and imbalances in every system in the body.

Unfortunately, AFS isn’t well understood or accepted in the general community. This can lead to people and their doctors dismissing their symptoms and delaying their recovery. AFS progress in stages. Advanced AFS is when a person enters stage 3, also called adrenal exhaustion. Those in adrenal exhaustion tends to trigger problems with every circuit and organ in the body, so the symptoms can be extremely varied and highly individualized. As a result, many people don’t know that they have AFS until they’re in the adrenal exhaustion stage, and at this point life is very hard and recovery takes longer and is more complex.

What is Adrenal Exhaustion?

Adrenal exhaustion occurs in the third stage of AFS. At this stage, the need for hormones has not abated and the adrenals can no longer keep up with the demand. As a result, cortisol output starts to gradually decline, which can lead to adrenal crashes. In this stage, the body is in survival mode, trying to retain enough energy to function, so everything starts to slow down. The body starts to break down muscle for energy, toxic metabolites build up in the body’s systems and the circuit malfunctions noticed in the early stages start to spread and become chronic. At this stage, recovery is usually long and very difficult. Which is why it’s important that you notice any adrenal exhaustion symptoms early enough to avoid moving into this stage.

Common Adrenal Exhaustion Symptoms

If you have depression along with other Adrenal Exhaustion Symptoms, this is a big indicator you should look into itAdrenal fatigue if left unchecked can lead to a variety of troubling symptoms and problems. Some of the most common adrenal exhaustion symptoms include the following:

  • Mental disorders such as anxiety and depression.
  • General fatigue that doesn’t go away.
  • Palpitations and other disruptions in the cardiac system.
  • Digestive problems such as IBS, constipation or diarrhea
  • A lowered immune system and greater susceptibility to infections.
  • Blood sugar level instabilities.
  • Mental fog.

The symptoms of AFS can be highly individual and they often come and go as the problems caused by AFS progress. If you want to avoid most of them, then you need to be aware of the adrenal exhaustion symptoms that appear in the early stages, so you can make changes to avoid further problems.

Chronic Tiredness

It’s natural to get tired sometimes, particularly if you have a busy and interesting life. But there’s a difference between normal tiredness and tiredness that just doesn’t go away. If you’re always tired despite sleeping, and you struggle to relax, then it may be a sign of a deeper problem. Chronic tiredness is one of the most common adrenal exhaustion symptoms. With AFS, this kind of ongoing tiredness is usually caused by the increased levels of cortisol in your body. When you’re under stress, your adrenal glands produce more cortisol in response. This keeps your body alert and ready and hampers your ability to sleep. As a result, your sleeping patterns will suffer and you won’t get the high quality of rest that you need to recover from each day and prepare for the next. You constantly feel wired and tired.

Declining Mental Health

If you suddenly find yourself suffering from anxiety or bouts of depression, or struggle to cope with everyday events when you have never had an issue before, then it could be sign of a problem with your adrenal glands. These are very common adrenal exhaustion symptoms because the adrenal glands help to regulate cognitive function and stabilize your mental health in a number of ways. When the adrenals become fatigued, it causes a number of changes and imbalances in the body that can affect your mental health. For starters, it affects the Neuroaffect circuit in the NeuroEndoMetabolic Stress Response System. The circuit consists of the autonomic nervous system, the brain, and the microbiome. When your body undergoes stress, the neurotransmitter levels becomes imbalanced within the autonomic nervous system (ANS). It also causes changes in the balance of gut bacteria, called microbiota. Your microbiota is strongly linked to your mental health as well as to other systems in your body. And any problems within these two systems can have a devastating effect on your mental health and will exacerbate your AFS. So if you notice a decline in your mental acuity or unexpected mood shifts, it’s worth learning more about whether you could have AFS.

However, don’t let this stop you from getting help when you need it with your mental health. Mental health problems can be extremely serious, frightening and devastating to your life and wellbeing. So if you’re concerned, make sure you seek out all the help you need to get well again.

Salt Cravings and Low Blood Pressure

If you’re trying to avoid the adrenal exhaustion symptoms that occur with later stages AFS, then you need to pay attention to your salt cravings. This involves the hormone known as aldosterone, which is produced by the adrenal glands. Aldosterone regulates salt levels in the blood, so when the hormone levels drop, your sodium levels will drop as well. This becomes a problem with AFS because the adrenals become fatigued and start to struggle to perform their regular duties. As a result, many people with AFS experience salt cravings as their adrenal glands try to regulate the levels of salt in the blood and fail because of their fatigue.

There is another side effect of this as well. When the adrenals are struggling to produce the hormone necessary for salt regulation, more salt then necessary leaves the body. This is excreted through the urine, which means that more water is lost at the same time. This lowers the fluid volume in the blood vessels and can result in low blood pressure, which is another common sign of early AFS.

Weight Gain

Weight gain is a common problem in today’s world, but it can also be one of the common Adrenal Exhaustion SymptomsThe last problem you need to be aware of when you have AFS is weight gain. This is another very common symptom of early AFS and recognizing it will help you avoid adrenal exhaustion symptoms. This is probably one of the most frustrating symptoms as well. It is caused by the increased cortisol production during the early stages of AFS. This puts the body into a stress response state. In this state, the body naturally seeks out calorie rich foods to replenish itself. In basic terms, it’s trying to get extra energy in order to cope with stress. This is a natural process that served humans well in their evolutionary past. But in today’s modern world, where stress is usually emotional rather than physical, it often does more harm than good.

For people with AFS, this combination of stress and instinct often results in weight gain, particularly around the middle. This is a symptom that’s unique to the early stages of AFS, and it’s one of the best ways to evaluate if you have this disorder. So if you struggle to lose weight even when you’re dieting, think adrenal fatigue.

A Warning about AFS Symptoms

Many of these AFS symptoms may seem too vague. After all, most of them are fairly common in today’s world. So you may be tempted to mask the symptoms with coffee or over the counter remedies. However, this is a mistake that can seriously affect your recovery. Together, these symptoms indicate deeper problems and ignoring them means delaying your recovery. It also means that you aren’t taking steps to alleviate your stress levels, which means further damage to the various circuits in your body. And this could lead to later stages of AFS as well as severe and debilitating adrenal exhaustion symptoms.

The Takeaway

If you suffer from strange and vague symptoms that no one can explain, it’s probably time to learn about AFS. This disorder can cause a variety of strange problems, and if left untreated can result in the stage 3 of AFS called adrenal exhaustion The four important adrenal exhaustion symptoms that you need to be aware of are chronic tiredness, declining mental health, salt cravings with low blood pressure, and weight gain. By identifying these problems early, you will be able to look for the right kind of help and start making changes that will put you on the path to an early recovery. And this is the best way for you to get back your energy, your health, and your zest for life.

© Copyright 2015 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

Dr. Lam’s Key Question

The signs of AFS aren’t always clear and this can result in people not getting the help they need to recover. To avoid this, you need to know about the early adrenal exhaustion symptoms that will help you understand what’s happening to you so you can start looking for help.

Adrenal exhaustion symptoms
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