A Valuable Look at Adrenal Insufficiency Symptoms

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH


Addison’s Disease and Adrenal Insufficiency SymptomsAdrenal insufficiency is a condition where the adrenal glands do not produce adequate levels of the hormone cortisol and sometimes aldosterone. It is also called Addison’s Disease. President Kennedy is perhaps the most famous patient to have this condition. It can be caused by a defect, illness, or infection that affects the adrenal glands, or it can be the result of a disorder somewhere else in the body that suppresses ACTH, CRH, or other hormones that control the adrenal glands. Some adrenal insufficiency symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Muscle weakness
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Craving salty foods
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness upon standing
  • Low blood pressure
  • Depression
  • Low libido
  • Irregular or missing menstrual periods

Adrenal insufficiency is often first suspected if the doctor is astute and correlates your medical history with any obvious symptoms. Diagnosis of adrenal insufficiency is usually confirmed by blood and urine tests of cortisol before and after injecting the body with ACTH and CRH, which should stimulate the adrenal glands to produce cortisol. Treatment is conducted by replacing the hormones that should be produced by the adrenal glands. Corticosteroids to replace cortisol are introduced orally in tablet form. Lifelong treatment is required. Aldosterone can be replaced by taking mineralocorticoids.

But what if you have these adrenal insufficiency symptoms and more, but lab tests don’t show anything wrong? Are your adrenals normal and the problem something else completely? A subclinical low cortisol level can still cause many of these problems. Subclinical means the condition is not severe enough to be defined as a disease state. The adrenal glands are the stress response center for the body, and in today’s world, stress is everywhere to be found. When the adrenal glands are called on to respond to stress over and over without rest, they can break down and decrease cortisol production, resulting in the condition we call Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome.

Adrenal Insufficiency Symptoms vs. Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome

Urine test for adrenal insufficiency symptomsThe late stages of Adrenal Fatigue, such as stage 3, also called Adrenal Exhaustion, are characterized by a subclinical or borderline low cortisol level as the adrenal glands are no longer in shape to produce the right amount. This gives rise to many symptoms that mirror adrenal insufficiency symptoms; the underlying cause of low cortisol is the same, just at different severities.

Now while Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome is a subclinical condition and laboratory tests do not indicate a problem in the levels of hormones, this does not mean the condition cannot be serious. In fact, it is because it begins so subtly that it is difficult to detect and usually not caught until extensive damage has been done. By the time the symptoms become worrisome, Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome is usually in the late stages.

While there is no definitive test for Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome, you can make some dietary and lifestyle changes that will be helpful to your health in general, even if Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome is not the culprit. Removing as much stress from your daily life as you can and taking time out of the day to relax or meditate gives your adrenals and the rest of your body a chance to rest and rebuild. Eating a healthy diet by cutting out refined carbohydrates and trans-fats will reduce physiological stress inside the body. Taking high quality nutritional supplements will help bolster the strength of the adrenals as well as the rest of your body by giving it the materials and resources it needs to keep itself well-repaired and running smoothly.

So if you have these adrenal insufficiency symptoms, it is important to speak with your doctor and find out what is going on. In the meantime, however, if you are able to make some small changes to your routine, you may find that some or all of these symptoms may evaporate as your body becomes more healthy and hearty.

Meditation and adrenal insufficiency symptomsIt is also important to address adrenal insufficiency concerns before the condition progresses to affect more systems in the body. The body is a unit, which from a functional medicine standpoint, is a web of overlapping systems. The adrenal glands are one part of a larger system known as the NEM Stress Response. The neuroendocrine metabolic (NEM) stress response includes hormones, neurotransmitters, cardiac and respiratory function, detoxification, metabolism, and inflammatory responses in the body. When under chronic stress, parts of the NEM stress response get overworked and fatigue, which causes imbalances in the other systems, and over-compensation in others. Such as a decrease in detoxification, causes an increase in inflammation. It is important to address and start recovery from adrenal fatigue in order to keep a health NEM stress response and maintain balance in the body.


Addison’s Disease and Adrenal Insufficiency Symptoms

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3 Comments

  • Elle says:

    Dr. Lam, a thousand thank you’s for your priceless adrenal information. I have been suffering with adrenal fatigue since likely 2003. I’ve seen at least 3 Endrocrinologists, done saliva, blood tests etc,; ignored my adrenals, even ridiculed me for raising adrenal questions! One Naturalpath did urine testing, showing very high cortisol in 2008. I have all the classic symptoms of adrenal fatigue, praying not more but likely so. I cannot work as a result, perpetual fatigue, interrupted sleep, disregulated body temperature etc. Please help! I have done & tried nearly everything available but traditional medicine doesn’t know (seen countless Dr.’s) desperate to find an adrenal specialist at least . I’m reading your material & videos with great interest! Thank you for acknowledging & showing this issue is real & fixable!

    • Dr.Lam says:

      AFS is a field that even many alternative physicians are at a loss when it comes to advanced stages. You can call my office for more help. We have a telephone coaching program if you qualify.

      Dr.Lam

  • Leigh Ellen Benton says:

    I have been to Kant doctors including 3 endocrinologists… I have EVERY symptom of Cushings, but all saliva , dextrose, urine tests have come back normal…. I was diagnosed as bipolar several years ago… my stomach swells to look as if I’m 9 months pregnant. Every doctor I have been to has told me that I definitely have something wrong, but they don’t know what… this has been going on for over 2 years. No Dr has ever mentioned adrenal disfunction ..I took the screening test…. and the results show I need to seek medical attention…. please help… thank you…