While certain physical symptoms have readily identified causes, vague feelings of illness can be hard for many women to identify and difficult for health care professionals to diagnose and treat. According to MayoClinic.com, adrenal fatigue is a term that some practitioners of alternative medicine and popular health books use to describe a collection of nonspecific symptoms.
Your adrenal glands, sometimes called suprarenal glands, are located on the tops of your kidneys. Your adrenal glands produce hormones that are essential to life. These glands work together with your hypothalamus and pituitary gland to perform a number of functions including controlling your body’s use of proteins, carbohydrates and fats, maintaining your blood pressure, and regulating the flow of blood to your brain and muscles. These glands also help manage your blood sugar levels, maintain pregnancy and control your body’s response to stress.
Disorders of your adrenal glands can cause them to produce excessive or insufficient amounts of hormones. Cushing’s syndrome is a condition that occurs when your body makes too much cortisol. Adrenal tumors and adrenal hyperplasia can cause Cushing’s syndrome. Congenital adrenal hyperplasia is a genetic disorder that inhibits your adrenal glands’ production of cortisol. Pituitary tumors and adrenal tumors can also reduce your ability to produce adequate amounts of adrenal hormones, limiting your ability to handle physiological stress, a condition known as Addison’s disease.
MayoClinic.com describes adrenal fatigue as a medically unrecognized diagnosis. Proponents of this term claim chronic stress can lead to a mild form of adrenal insufficiency and cause various, nonspecific symptoms. These symptoms can include nervousness, sleep disturbances, fatigue, body aches and digestive problems.
Addison’s disease is the medical diagnosis for adrenal insufficiency. Individuals with Addison’s disease may exhibit certain symptoms related to inadequate amounts of adrenal hormones. Common symptoms of Addison’s disease include loss of body hair, low blood pressure, body aches, unexplained weight loss and lightheadedness.
If you have symptoms of adrenal insufficiency, your doctor may order a blood test that measures the amount of cortisol in your body to determine if you have Addison’s disease. Test results that show inadequate levels of cortisol can confirm the presence of this disorder. Proponents of the adrenal fatigue diagnosis claim that the tests that measure adrenal function aren’t sensitive enough to pick up the slight decrease in hormones that can cause the vague symptoms referred to as adrenal fatigue in women. MayoClinic.com warns that accepting the medically unrecognized diagnosis of adrenal fatigue may cause you to ignore the underlying cause of your symptoms, such as depression and fibromyalgia.