The term “adrenal fatigue” has gained recent popularity as one possible cause of an apparent epidemic of gut problems, sleep disturbances, anxiety and fatigue. But is it even real? What can you do if you’re suffering?
“Adrenal fatigue” is a term naturopaths use to describe the long-term effects of stress on the body. Symptoms include extreme fatigue, digestive issues, anxiety, insomnia and sweet or salty food cravings.
Is Adrenal Fatigue Real?
According to Endocrine News, the term “adrenal fatigue” comes from a naturopath named James L. Wilson, DC, ND, PhD. Wilson claims chronic stress can burn out the adrenal system, leading to a slew of symptoms.
Authorities note that there is an actual condition, known as chronic adrenal insufficiency, in which the adrenal glands become underactive. Fatigue is one symptom of the disorder— along with weight loss, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, joint pain, low blood pressure and dry skin. But whereas chronic adrenal insufficiency can be confirmed through diagnostic testing, “adrenal fatigue” cannot.
So, What Is It?
Fatigue, insomnia, anxiety and digestive issues can result from a number of other health issues, including autoimmune diseases, anemia, infections and problems with the heart, liver or kidneys. These medical issues should be ruled out before your doctor considers other possibilities. But what if a physical exam and blood tests don’t offer any answers?
The symptoms attributed to adrenal fatigue also have strong similarities to fibromyalgia and depression. This would explain why self-care — improving diet, implementing more exercise, getting enough sleep and reducing stress — appears to have such a positive impact on patients’ symptoms. Both fibromyalgia and depression can cause profound fatigue, digestive issues, anxiety and insomnia, but both are also treatable.
Although research seems to indicate that this condition is based on one doctor's opinion rather than any substantiated studies, the symptoms and effects are certainly causing people to suffer. The way that these symptoms can be part of many different causes, may mean that those who accept a diagnosis of "adrenal fatigue" are not being treated for other conditions. It's probably best to continue testing and work to see what the true underlying cause is rather than to accept a fast diagnosis that may be being used in some cases as a catch-all.
Catch-all diagnoses can prevent people from getting care for other conditions, so we urge anyone who has these symptoms to please see a doctor. The answers are possible, but sometimes we have to be persistent.
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