What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome? How are its Symptoms Related to Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome?

By: Michael Lam, MD, MPH; Justin Lam, ABAAHP, FMNM

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Unimproved with Medicine

If you are having insomnia you may want to ask yourself, What is chronic fatigue syndrome and is it keeping you up at night?Being offered options for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome but not responding to therapy and medicine can be extremely frustrating as you try to function day to day with no answers. Having a remedy should help you improve by being able to target the symptoms and triggers. Unfortunately, the true cause is still unknown, and it is likely to be multi-factorial. Many sufferers who have been diagnosed with chronic fatigue may therefore have very different underlying issues. If you are experiencing symptoms with no relief, it is time to seriously consider finding some answers – what is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and do you actually have it?

What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome is a condition of the body diagnosed by a patient presenting with specific clinical criteria, such as unexplained chronic fatigue plus at least four other symptoms, which may include:

  • Difficulty concentrating or remembering
  • Not feeling rested after sleep
  • Swollen lymph nodes in throat (and sore throat) or armpits
  • New pattern of headaches or change in type or severity
  • Muscle fatigue or pain without explanation
  • Pain in joints not caused by injury (no swelling present)

Once you have been positively diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, the common course of treatment is a battery of compounds. These can include muscle relaxants to aid with relaxation and sleep, as well as stimulants to help deal with the fatigue. Unfortunately, this cycle of treating the symptoms in this way often continues with little or no results for your fatigue. When you have been suffering for a very long time a couple of things can happen: you may improve with medication, you may reach a plateau at the level of relief from traditional treatments, or in the worst case scenario, you may actually get worse or not improve at all. Of course, if you do improve, your quality of life improves and you will see more joy and satisfaction as you recover. However, if you do not improve, there is a question of why you are not improving; is it really chronic fatigue, and what can you do to get a proper determination?

What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome versus Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome?

Looking at chronic fatigue vs. adrenal fatigue, we see many similarities, but also many differences. Many believe they are one and the same, and though they may present similarly, they have very different courses of treatment. Adrenal fatigue occurs when the body is unable to handle stress anymore. In addition to many of the symptoms of chronic fatigue, you may feel:

  • New allergies to food or environmental triggers
  • Easy tasks are more difficult to complete
  • Dry skin or thin skin
  • Cannot tolerate even low amounts of stress
  • Lower body temperature than normal
  • Feelings of nervousness, including palpitations
  • Loss of hair and/or brittle fingernails
  • Digestive and intestinal issues such as diarrhea, acid reflux, or constipation

What is chronic fatigue syndrome? Does it cause hair loss?If you are being treated for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and fail to improve, you may need to consider Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome (AFS) as the possible reason. There are very clear indicators of adrenal fatigue syndrome that are different than chronic fatigue syndrome, that should be very carefully studied. For instance, adrenal fatigue has a history of being very much stress-induced, whereas this does not seem to be the case in chronic fatigue. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome tends to present with symptoms, whereas Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome has very prominent symptoms in advanced stages.

Differentiating Chronic Fatigue and Adrenal Fatigue

A detailed history is required to be able to tell the difference between these similar fatigue syndromes, and in fact a detailed history is often the only way to distinguish between the two. Laboratory tests are not sophisticated enough, nor sensitive enough, to specifically determine if you are suffering from chronic fatigue or adrenal fatigue syndrome. Even with laboratory tests and a detailed history in hand, this determination will still depend highly upon your clinician’s education, training, clinical skills, and experience. They also must have a very thorough understanding of what the body is going through physiologically and what is chronic fatigue syndrome.

The adrenal glands, which sit on top of the kidneys, produce, secrete, and regulate over 50 hormones in the body, including the most important stress fighter, cortisol. When these hormones become imbalanced, the body cannot function properly, and you will simply not feel well. As the adrenals become stressed by being out of balance, the entire body takes a toll. When you separate these indicators, you can then differentiate what is Adrenal Fatigue Syndrome and what is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.

Neuroendometabolic Stress Response and Fatigue

With adrenal fatigue, we see the Neuroendometabolic (NEM) Stress Response taking over and spreading the stress fighting response across the body, which is our natural pathophysiological response in all stages of AFS. Your brain, endocrine organs, and metabolism will all work to bear the burden of the stress on your body when the adrenal glands fail to regulate cortisol and other hormones produced and secreted by the adrenals. Most of your organs, systems, pathways, and chemical reactions must work together on a fully functional level to fight stress when it appears.

For the NEM response to work appropriately, you must address the health of your entire body in a very holistic way. There are many herbal therapies as well as diet and lifestyle changes you can make that will begin to provide relief and recovery for AFS.


If you are constantly tired, you may want to ask yourself, what is chronic fatigue syndrome?Chronic fatigue is a syndrome of the body described by a constant state of exhaustion despite not doing anything to cause the body to be tired (such as exercise), thought to be caused by viral infections and/or a weakened immune system.

What is AFS? Adrenal fatigue is a syndrome of the body described by a constant state of exhaustion coupled with the inability to handle stress, thought to be caused by an imbalance of hormones produced and excreted by the adrenal glands.

So if you have been told that you have chronic fatigue. and it’s not improving despite conventional medical help, you have to consider whether you do in reality have the symptoms of adrenal fatigue and not chronic fatigue.

© Copyright 2016 Michael Lam, M.D. All Rights Reserved.

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