Too Stressed? When and How to Test for Adrenal Fatigue
Are you living with constant stress and feeling unwell? Is your body being pushed to its limits and failing to compensate for the stress levels you are experiencing? Restoring your balance requires stress reduction and knowing when and how to test for adrenal fatigue.
What is Adrenal Fatigue?
Adrenal fatigue is a progressively worsening condition where your body can no longer effectively fight stress.
If your fight-or-flight response is constantly in the “on” position, your adrenal glands will stop producing anti-stress hormones such as cortisol. When this happens, your adrenal system becomes imbalanced, affecting your entire body.
Adrenal Fatigue vs. Adrenal Insufficiency
The term adrenal fatigue is often used interchangeably with adrenal insufficiency. While the two conditions are similar, there is one big difference between them: adrenal fatigue is brought on by chronic stress, while adrenal insufficiency is not.
Your functional medicine doctors will specifically know how to test for adrenal fatigue vs. testing for adrenal insufficiency.
Adrenal Insufficiency (Addison’s Disease)
Primary adrenal insufficiency, or Addison’s disease, is a rare autoimmune disorder affecting one of every hundred thousand people. Adrenal insufficiency has its roots in improperly functioning adrenal glands. People with Addison’s don’t produce enough anti-stress hormones such as aldosterone and cortisol.
Addison’s disease frequently occurs with other autoimmune disorders such as pernicious anemia, type 1 diabetes, and chronic thyroiditis. Less often, the condition can be genetic or caused by infections.
Unlike adrenal insufficiency, adrenal fatigue results from chronic stress.
When stressed, the body releases anti-stress hormones like cortisol and stops releasing them when the stress is removed. This reaction is part of your natural “fight-or-flight” response.
Your adrenal glands were never meant to continuously pump these anti-stress hormones throughout your body. If you suffer from chronic stress, your adrenal glands can’t meet the demand, making it crucial to know how to test for adrenal fatigue.
The Evolving Faces of Adrenal Fatigue
Adrenal fatigue doesn’t happen overnight. It evolves through four stages, progressively worsening. You probably won’t recognize the condition in its early stages and will shrug off symptoms as having a few “bad days” of fatigue, brain fog, and nonspecific body aches.
Knowing how to test for adrenal fatigue and when to do so is crucial in preventing its evolution.
Stage 1: Alarm Reaction
During Stage 1, your fight-or-flight responses release anti-stress hormones including cortisol, adrenaline, and norepinephrine. This reaction is the body’s normal response to acute stress, but in cases of prolonged exposure to stressors, it can lead to chronic issues.
You may feel more tired, but most people don’t recognize this exhaustion as a sign of a deeper issue.
Despite feeling tired, you maintain productivity and focus levels during Stage 1 but rely on stimulants to battle the fatigue.
Increased cravings for sugar and salt may mark Stage 1 adrenal fatigue.
Stage 2: Resistance Response
The term “wired but tired” describes this stage. The primary symptom of Stage 2 adrenal fatigue is an increase in fatigue, often to near-debilitating levels. You find it difficult to perform routine activities, and your exhaustion levels interfere with your ability to be productive and focused.
Other signs appear, including sleep disorders, frequent infections including colds and flu, increased PMS symptoms, high blood pressure, and anxiety or irritability. You feel unwell but can’t explain why or how.
In this stage, your body’s natural ability to combat stress becomes imbalanced. Since your body’s network relies on each system’s full functionality, you develop vague symptoms such as brain fog and inflammation—all difficult to diagnose correctly if you don’t know how to test for adrenal fatigue.
Stage 3: Adrenal Exhaustion
By Stage 3, you know something is wrong, even if you can’t pinpoint it. Your immune system is compromised, and you can no longer claim that your depression or anxiety is simply “feeling blue.” If you’re female, you’re suffering from reproductive issues, and your thyroid function is affected as well. What began as mildly annoying exhaustion becomes debilitating, chronic fatigue that leaves you unable to function.
Your body can no longer maintain its balance, so it goes into panic mode. Blood pressure issues, high or low blood sugar levels, and GI issues are all signs that you are now in Stage 3 adrenal fatigue.
Stage 4: Adrenal Failure
If your doctor doesn’t know how to test for adrenal fatigue, your condition will advance to Stage 4, adrenal failure. This life-threatening condition can lead to an increased risk of cardiovascular complications and, in extreme cases, even death. It marks the point of complete adrenal failure.
All the symptoms experienced up to this point become more severe as new ones emerge. Fainting, dehydration, low blood pressure, constipation, and chronic pain throughout your body are a few examples of Stage 4 adrenal fatigue symptoms.
How To Test for Adrenal Fatigue
The most important thing to remember is that during the beginning stages, adrenal fatigue presents itself as a series of non-specific symptoms. As the condition progresses, the symptoms become harder to ignore.
Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue
Some of the most common symptoms of adrenal fatigue include
- Heart palpitations
- Sleep disturbances
- Thinning hair
- Depression, anxiety, and panic attacks
- Brain fog
- Unusual cravings for salt, sugar, and fatty or high-protein foods
- GI disorders including constipation, nausea, and vomiting
- Joint and muscle pain
- Intolerances for temperature extremes, exercise, or sunlight
- Skin disorders including dry skin or rapidly aging skin
- Reproductive issues such as PMS, inability to conceive, early onset menopause, and dysmenorrhea
- Cardiovascular complaints, including blood pressure fluctuations
While these symptoms don’t necessarily mean adrenal fatigue, they indicate that it’s time to visit your functional medicine doctor.
Functional Medicine Tests for Adrenal Fatigue
Your functional medicine doctor knows exactly how to test for adrenal fatigue.
Some of these tests include
- Blood tests: Ruling out other conditions and measure anti-stress hormones
- Urine tests: Measuring cortisol, epinephrine, and norepinephrine levels in the urine
- Saliva tests: Measuring cortisol and DHEA (a natural hormone that battles high cortisol) levels in the saliva
At True Life Medicine, we understand that “feeling off” is a symptom of a more significant issue, and we know when and how to test for adrenal fatigue so you can get back to your healthy, productive life. Don’t wait: if you catch adrenal fatigue in its early stages, you have a better chance of reversing the condition.
If you’ve missed out on too many of life’s pleasures because you “just don’t feel right,” contact us now to schedule your free, no-obligation discovery call.