I've recently been diagnosed with adrenal fatigue. So in between being exhausted and trying to carry on with life, I've done a lot of reading both online and in books. I am so eternally thankful to be working with a FANTASTIC health coach (Sarah- if you are reading this- YOU ARE AWESOME!) who helped me discover the name to what's been plaguing me and a super homeopath who has experienced adrenal fatigue herself so is well versed in treatment approaches.
There's a lot out there on the subject. Quite a number of variations to approach too. And while my goal is to share my story in hopes to make a difference in someone else's life, it's hard to know where to begin for treatment and where to begin to talk about this 'illness.'
First, what are adrenals?
The adrenal glands are small kidney-shaped endocrine glands, often compared to the size of a walnut. They are located in the lower back area just above the kidneys. While small, they are actually very powerful and necessary. When our bodies experience stress, the adrenal glands release hormones (adrenaline, cortisol) that help keep us alert, focused, and increase our stamina, usually assuring that we able to deal with pressure.
What is Adrenal Fatigue?
Unfortunately, it is not yet a common term among medical doctors (though it is starting to become better known), as it's a hard to detect syndrome which often fails to show up in blood work unless your DHEA is extremely low or you have the full development of Addison's Disease. But more and more doctors are recognizing this illness. Dr. James Wilson describes Adrenal Fatigue as a "collection of signs and symptoms, known as a syndrome, that results when the adrenal glands function below the necessary level. Most commonly associated with intense or prolonged stress".
I guess you could say my life has been filled with stress. While I like to downplay most of it, looking back... well, yeah, I've had a lot of health issues from day one (cleft palate that led to many surgeries and eating difficulties), childhood illnesses (I could write a book on strep! Ha-ha!), childhood emotional issues that left an impact on me and how I would relate to other relationships, multiple surgeries including sudden appendectomy, gall bladder and a loss of an ovary and other surgeries related to the cleft palate and so many ear surgeries I can't count that has led to permanent scarring and hearing loss. Later in life physical stuff and emotional stuff played into the bipolar depression- of which I did ELIMINATE (see this post)- but of course have always dealt with anxiety (of which MTFHR might be playing a major role- but that's for another post!) and being a highly sensitive person. My education was difficult- no learning disabilities (diagnosable at that time) but it didn't come easy. Of course there were work stresses and the normal stresses of motherhood, late nights and other emotional traumas through the years that are many as well too lengthy to mention here and other factors to consider. So yes, I've had one major stress factor after another, often overlapping, and not a whole lot of rest from it. So could my adrenals be stressed to the max? Um, undoubtedly so.
It's true that most of us experience stressors every day. Mothers in general know what stress is . And mothers or not, we all have experienced stress sitting in traffic, having to speak to a large group of people, or have an argument with a spouse or friend. Experiencing a range of physical and psychological demands can trigger our adrenal glands to give small blasts of strength throughout the day by way of hormone spurts in the form of adrenaline and cortisol. This is all normal.
However, when someone experiences constant stress, the adrenal glands end up maintaining high cortisol levels- not something they are supposed to be doing! And when someone experiences high levels of stress for a long period of time, without much or any rest in between, the adrenal glands become unable to respond appropriately or in a healthy manner. Thus you have adrenal fatigue.
Adrenal fatigue can affect the body’s short term response to stress. Adrenal fatigue impairs the body’s ability to produce and/or balance other hormones that will promote health and general well-being. If you feel unbalanced or several of the symptoms listed below, it may be time to consider whether your adrenals are functioning properly and it may be time to address whatever the stressors are in your life before you become seriously ill.
Of course, stress isn't the only factor that causes Adrenal Fatigue. Adrenal fatigue seems to strike women most often but can certainly affect men as well. It occurs most often among chronic dieters(unhealthy diets), workaholics and perfectionists, over exercises (yes, too much exercise IS a bad thing) and those that undergo more than the average amount of emotional stress.
It's important to note that developing Adrenal Fatigue is dependent on your personal threshold for stress and how your body reacts to it. This means that someone who works 40 hours or more a week, exercises for an hour or more daily, and eats a poor diet may not experience adrenal fatigue, yet someone else who might only be working less than 40 hours, walks daily, but still has other stresses or factors in their life may have their adrenals effected.
It's also important to note that Adrenal Fatigue occurs in varying stages. It can start as what appears as mild fatigue with other minor symptoms but eventually, if left untreated, evolve into the full blown 'crash' phase (mild cases usually will not result in any blood test abnormalities while more severe cases may show up as hormonal issues, including low DHEA) that leads to constant fatigue and 'burnt-out' symptoms.
So What are the Symptoms?
Symptoms of adrenal fatigue include, but are NOT limited to trouble waking up in the morning, constant fatigue even when enough sleep has been had, slowed metabolism, cravings for salty foods, feeling cold often, decreased immunity, brain-fog, difficulty concentrating or focusing, feeling overwhelmed (constantly), problems handling stress and depression/anxiety, PMS and other hormonal issues, digestive issues, muscle and joint aches/pains/spasms similar to symptoms of fibromyalgia, and more. One or two of these symptoms does not constitute adrenal fatigue but a combination of several of them for an extended period of time may. Of course, a lot of these symptoms can be characteristic of other illnesses, so one needs to consult a professional and should never self-diagnose.
I plan on writing more about adrenal fatigue, what I am doing to treat my own and what others find to be beneficial. I hope that I can help anyone else that is fighting this syndrome. Of course, I remind you I am not a medical doctor- just an Orthodox Mom trying to figure out this challenge in life!