Adrenal Fatigue: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Adrenal fatigue is a layman language for what is medically called adrenal insufficiency or Addison’s disease. It denotes a functional state that your adrenal gland is under-active.

People have two adrenal glands, each of which is located right above the upper pole of your kidney on each side. This is why the adrenal gland is also called suprarenal glands (literally means gland above the kidney).

So what is the function of the adrenal gland in physiological status?

Although the adrenal glands is small, their function can not be overemphasized. The adrenal gland secretes 2 essential hormones that control your various body functions.

The first one is called cortisol, also known as “stress hormone” that helps you to cope with stress. In addition, it also functions to maintain your blood pressure, increase your blood glucose levels, reduce your body inflammation and controls your body metabolism.

The other hormone secreted by the adrenal glands is called aldosterone, which helps to regulate your sodium and potassium metabolism. It helps to control the salt and water balance to keep your blood pressure stable. Specifically, aldosterone increases your sodium level and decreases the blood potassium level.


What makes the adrenal gland unable to work properly? There are several common causes for that. The most common cause is auto-immune destruction of the adrenal gland, which is termed Addison’s disease.

Cancer metastasis to the bilateral adrenal glands is also a frequent cause, especially lung cancer.

In some developing countries, tuberculosis of the adrenal glands is the most common cause of adrenal insufficiency.

There are also some uncommon causes of adrenal insufficiency, such as Sheehan’s syndrome, which occurs due to pituitary necrosis after post-delivery massive uterine bleeding.


The cardinal symptoms of adrenal insufficiency are caused by the insufficient cortisol and aldosterone the adrenal glands release. Specifically, with a low cortisol, you may have symptoms of fatigue, low blood pressure and low blood sugar level, depression or even sexual dysfunction. With insufficient aldosterone, you would have symptoms of decreased appetite, decreased body weight, nausea or vomiting. You may also have skin pigmentation (skin darkening) with adrenal insufficiency.


How is adrenal insufficiency treated? The main treatments include 2 parts.

The 1st one is hormone replacement. Since you have deficient cortisol and aldosterone, your doctor may supplement you with man-made hormones that have similar functions to improve your clinical symptoms. For instance, your doctor may give you oral hydrocortisone, prednisone or methylprednisolone to supplement the cortisol. Likewise, you are also likely to be given fludrocortisone acetate to replace aldosterone. You will also be asked to eat more salt, especially when you are dehydrated. Another thing to remember is that you need to check with your doctor frequently, especially when you are in stress, to adjust your medication dosages.

The other component of the treatment also aims at treating the underlying cause of your adrenal insufficiency. For instance, if your adrenal insufficiency is caused by lung cancer metastasis, your doctor may recommend chemotherapy or molecular target therapy or radiation therapy. If the adrenal insufficiency is caused by the tuberculosis, then, taking medications to treat the tuberculosis would also take place.


The outlook for adrenal insufficiency is generally good. Although this condition can not be cured, it can be manged successfully. Visiting your doctor regularly, especially when you encounter stressful events, and adjusting medication dosages are essential.

* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.