The adrenal glands are small triangular-shaped organs sitting on top of each kidney. These glands produce different hormones. One of these is cortisol, which is one of the glucocorticoids that affect most organs of the body. Cortisol is also called "stress hormone" because it helps the body respond to various stressful stimuli, resulting in changes in blood pressure and heart rate, regulation of immune responses and metabolism, and maintenance of your sense of well-being. The amount of cortisol produced and released from the adrenal gland is regulated by the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland in the brain. Any condition that affects the function of these brain centers or the adrenal glands may cause inappropriate hormone production, which can manifest as insufficiency of adrenal function.
Some people use the term "adrenal fatigue" to refer to a set of symptoms consisting of fatigue, body aches, sleep disturbances, nervousness, and problems in digestion. They use this term to associate one's symptoms with chronic stress, which they believe is the cause of their condition. Some people believe that chronic stress causes the overproduction of stress hormones, which can lead to adrenal fatigue. However, this is not a medical diagnosis that is based on evidence and one must be careful not to seek various forms of treatments and remedies based on this "diagnosis". Aside from stressful life issues, their symptoms may be due to poor sleeping habits, poor diet, depression, or other diseases such as heart disease, thyroid problems, or diabetes.
Adrenal insufficiency, hypocortisolism, or Addison's disease is a condition characterized by insufficient production of cortisol. It may also be accompanied by insufficient production of aldosterone, another important hormone. Adrenal insufficiency may be caused by an autoimmune disorder, but it is more commonly associated with chronic use of medications (steroids), infections, cancer, or surgical complications affecting the brain or adrenal glands. However, it does not occur due to chronic stress, as some people describe adrenal fatigue.
Symptoms include chronic fatigue, weakness, unexplained loss of weight, body aches, low blood pressure and darkening of the skin.These symptoms often progress slowly, until a stressful condition occurs, such as an illness, which causes them to get worse, causing an acute adrenal insufficiency or an addisonian crisis.
The diagnosis of adrenal insufficiency is based on laboratory tests that show insufficient cortisol blood levels.
While some people recommend taking dietary supplements to treat adrenal fatigue, doctors who diagnose patients with proven adrenal insufficiency treat them with oral glucocorticoids such as Hydrocortisone tablets. Patients who are also deficient in aldosterone may be given mineralocorticoids like fludrocortisone acetate. Patients who are suffering from an addisonian crisis, which is a life-threatening condition, may need to be hospitalized.
If your symptoms are not due to an adrenal problem, other causes must be considered. You may also think about improving your lifestyle to get more energy and better health, and this includes eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep and exercise, and avoiding unhealthy habits such as smoking, drinking alcohol, or taking drugs. Be cautious about taking supplements that promote adrenal health, since these might contain hormones that you do not actually need and may cause harmful side effects.
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