Essential Information on the Health Threats of Adrenal Crash
Modern life is full of stress. There’s a lot of information about the dangers of stress as well as the diseases and illnesses that it can cause or exacerbate. Stress has been linked to serious problems such as heart attack, stroke, different types of cancer, and mental disorders. But even when these don’t occur, stress can still have a devastating effect on your health and on your life overall. Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) is a serious disorder that can be caused by long periods of stress, and if left untreated it can result in adrenal crash. If this occurs to you, it will have serious implications for your present and future health and wellbeing.
What is Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome?
Your adrenal glands are a key part of the system that helps your body cope with stress. This system is called the NeuroEndoMetabolic (NEM) Stress Response, which causes changes that protect your body from the negative effects of stress and prepares you to react. But this system isn’t meant to be activated all the time. In the distant past, the NEM stress response mostly helped your body to react to physical threats, such as physical attacks. These stress events may have been severe, but they were short-lived. Unfortunately, stress in the modern world is far less tangible and it’s ongoing. There are probably countless things in your life that cause you stress on a daily basis, all of them adding up to create a heavy stress load. When your body exists in that state too long, it can cause fatigue in the adrenal glands, a key part of that system. And when your adrenals stop functioning at their best, it can result in AFS.
The Importance of Adrenal Hormones
Your adrenal glands secrete a number of hormones that are important in your day to day life and even more essential in times of stress. These hormones include cortisol and aldosterone, which are both essential for stress relief and for life itself. When these hormones become dysregulated, usually because a prolonged period of stress caused a high hormone demand and the glands became fatigued trying to keep up with the need, it can result in adrenal crash. This can be a frightening stage of AFS that creeps in as the original condition worsens.
What is an Adrenal Crash?
You’ve probably experienced an adrenal crash at least once before in your life. Not everyone can recognize it. It occurs after a prolonged period of stress. During this stage, the body seeks to heal itself by conserving its energy as much as possible through lower physical activity. To put it in more basic terms, you feel so exhausted that all you can do is stay in bed and rest. If the body is allowed to heal itself in this way, and if the measures are adequate for the task, the adrenal crash will eventually stop and the body will slowly recover and return to normal functioning. This is a fairly normal cycle for people with AFS. However, if the body is not allowed to rest, or if the period of rest isn’t enough to heal the damage, the symptoms will actually worsen during the recovery period. And if additional help isn’t provided, the body will continue to decline through the AFS stages until full adrenal failure occurs.
The Biology of Adrenal Crash
AFS has four stages of steadily worsening symptoms and functioning. These stages are triggered and exacerbated by the steadily worsening periods of adrenal crash and the increasingly ineffective recovery periods. Major adrenal crashes can occur once every few years during the first two stages of AFS, and as often as every few weeks in the last two stages.
During the adrenal crash periods, systems in your body will stop or slow down to a crawl. All non-essential systems will be suspended as your body tries to decrease the amount of work it needs to do to continue living. This means that your thyroid functions will slow down, causing a variety of changes in the body. For example, digestion will be slower than usual and more sensitive, your reproductive system will shut down, and your overall energy levels will be low. This might feel frightening, but it’s also essential as your body tries to heal itself. Even your detoxification organs, the liver and the kidneys, slow down. This can result in a buildup of toxins in the body and cause or worsen feelings of fatigue, confusion, brain fog, and memory problems.
This situation can and will continue until your body feels that it has healed enough to start returning to normal functioning. Unfortunately, if your AFS is very advanced, by this stage you may have been in bed for a long time, which can result in ill effects that make it difficult for you to return to normal functioning. The key to avoiding this situation is to support the body during this stage and give it everything it needs to heal quickly and completely so you can get on with your life again.
Identifying your Triggers
Once you’ve entered the crash and recovery cycle, it’s too late to avoid the problems associated with it. That’s why early action is so important with AFS. By identifying the symptoms and the problems early, you can take measures to avoid adrenal crash and help your body recover before it gets to that stage. The first step you can take to avoid adrenal crash is to identify the triggers. Whether the crash is a minor one, which requires only a nap or a snack to allow recovery, or a major one that puts you in bed for weeks, there is always a trigger. This is usually a high stress event or period that overwhelms your ability to cope. Identifying what causes your crashes can be the first step to avoiding them in the future or supporting your body through similar events so the adrenal crash doesn’t occur.
Common stressors that can cause crashes include the following:
- Negative emotions
- Surgical procedures
- Illnesses such as the flu
- New medications
- Too much exercise
- Family troubles
- Financial worries
- Relationship troubles
- Moving house
- A loss of some kind
- Coffee, tea, or other stimulants
How to Avoid Adrenal Crash
Once you’ve identified your triggers and taken steps to eliminate them or minimize their impact on your life, it’s time to adopt other strategies that will help you avoid adrenal crash. This is not a one-size-fits-all program. Everyone’s condition is different, with a unique combination of symptoms, triggers, and stressors. Which is why your plan to avoid crashes has to be tailored to your situation and preferences. The following ideas can help you avoid the crash and recovery cycle of AFS:
You might think that exercising more will increase your energy levels. And for people who don’t have AFS, this is usually true. But if you’re fatigued because of AFS, exercise often makes the situation worse because it demands an outlay of energy that your body just doesn’t have. This makes exercising one of the biggest causes of adrenal crash, so if you have AFS you need to tailor your exercise schedule to your needs, not to someone else’s pre-designed program.
Find a doctor who understands
Unfortunately, AFS isn’t commonly accepted by most of the medical establishment. This means that you will probably have to seek out a doctor who’s aware of AFS to get the right diagnosis and advice on this debilitating disorder.
Suppression isn’t cure
There are countless different types of medication available today to treat almost any disorder or symptom. Your doctor may prescribe these medications to suppress some of your AFS symptoms, but this can actually cause more damage. Your symptoms may be uncomfortable, but they’re also an indicator of your overall condition as well as a sign of things that you need to work on. And if your symptoms are suppressed because of the medications, you could miss out on important signs of an impending adrenal crash or other AFS complications.
Don’t dismiss confusing symptoms
AFS often causes unusual symptoms. Because the normal balance of your body is off when you suffer from this disorder, it can cause some unusual and even paradoxical reactions. For example, certain essential nutrients in food might upset your stomach or cause an allergic reaction, or medications could have the opposite effect on your body. Ignoring these types of symptoms puts even more stress on your body as it struggles to cope with all the changes and the additional negative sensations and symptoms.
It can be tempting when you’re ill to focus only on the organs or the systems that are giving you trouble, but this is a mistake. The organs and systems in your body are all connected, and just because one of them is giving you trouble doesn’t mean that the others are healthy and unaffected. In fact, AFS usually causes decompensation in multiple organs, so it’s important that you consider the health of your entire body when you’re trying to recover from AFS and avoid illnesses or problems that could cause crashes.
Remember that medical knowledge isn’t complete
This is one of the major problems for people with AFS. Too often, when you go to your doctor with a set of strange symptoms, you’ll undergo testing and be told that you’re fine. If you just accept this diagnosis, it could leave you struggling with your symptoms and not working on your recovery. This can cause an incredible amount of stress for your mind, emotions, and your body. This is the opposite of what you need if you have AFS. What you need to remember is that medicine is still in its infancy. New diseases are discovered every day and the testing procedures just can’t keep up. So even if your lab results seem normal, it doesn’t mean that everything’s fine. Instead, if you still feel sick or seem to be getting worse, it may be time to consider other options.
Be wary of supplements
Supplements are often seen as a safe and natural way to supply your body with common and essential nutrients but the issue isn’t as simple as it might seem. Supplements can have side effects, they can build up in your system, and the lack of regulation in their production can cause adverse effects. All of these complications can negatively affect your health and cause adrenal crash, so make sure you get expert advice before you take any type of supplement.
If you have AFS, it’s important that you seek recovery options immediately. This will help you to avoid adrenal crash, a complication of AFS that can cause long-lasting and devastating problems. Treating AFS isn’t easy, there isn’t a lot of research on the topic so it isn’t fully understood. But taking steps to support your overall health and reducing stress can be a good way to start your journey to recovery. So, if you think you might suffer from this disorder, make sure you seek out expert help as soon as possible to avoid experiencing a bad outcome from this illness.
© Copyright 2018 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.
Dr. Lam’s Key Question
How can you avoid adrenal crash?
Adrenal crash occurs when you experience a trigger, a stressor that sets off a negative response. To avoid this situation, you need to improve your overall health, avoid triggers, and take measures to ensure that your body and health are supported in the right ways for AFS recovery.