Do You Have Adrenal Fatigue?

Common Symptoms of Adrenal Exhaustion

by Christiane Northrup, M.D.

In my blog Spiritual Support for Your Adrenals, I explain the physical and emotional triggers that can lead to adrenal fatigue.  But how do you know you have adrenal fatigue?

Some of the symptoms of adrenal fatigue, or adrenal exhaustion, include:

  • relentless and debilitating fatigue
  • depressed mood
  • irritability
  • loss of interest in life
  • low energy
  • an inability to carry out your normal day-to-day activities.

Now, if you have low thyroid function or low-level depression, you may have similar health complaints as someone with adrenal exhaustion.  It’s always a good idea to check your thyroid function if you are fatigued.  And, before starting any antidepressants, make sure that both your thyroid and your adrenals are functioning properly.

Do You Have Adrenal Fatigue?

For someone with true adrenal fatigue a typical day might look like this:

You awaken feeling groggy and have difficulty dragging yourself out of bed. You can’t get going without that first cup or two of coffee. You rely on sugary snacks and caffeine to get through the day, particularly in the late morning or afternoon. At night, though exhausted, you have difficulty falling asleep as the worries of the day keep replaying in your mind. You sometimes wonder what happened to your interest in sex.

If this describes you, you may have suboptimal adrenal function. This scenario indications that the balance between cortisol and DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone) is off – specifically, that cortisol levels are too high in relation to DHEA.

Remember, cortisol is your fight or flight hormone.  In the right amounts, it can enhance your body’s natural resistance and endurance. But too much cortisol can contribute to insulin resistance and a whole host of issues.  DHEA helps to balance the negative effects of too much cortisol.

DHEA has many benefits too, including improving your energy, vitality, sleep, and mental clarity.  It can also reduce PMS symptoms, help the body recover from acute stress or trauma; and may help the body maintain its bones and muscle mass. However, the more stress your body experiences, the less likely it is to produce enough DHEA. To compound matters, DHEA levels drop as part of the aging process (in some women). This explains why adrenal exhaustion at midlife can be particularly trying.

Diagnosing Adrenal Exhaustion

It is rare for a doctor practicing conventional medicine to give you a diagnosis of adrenal exhaustion, even if you have all the symptoms above.  But when it comes to DHEA, I do not suggest you diagnose yourself or begin treating it without first discussing your concerns with a medical practitioner. 

One thing I recommend is that you have your doctor prescribe the Dutch Test, which is short for Dried Urine Test for Comprehensive Hormones.  This test offers the most complete assessment of sex and adrenal hormones, along with their metabolites, in one easy-to-administer test.  It’s great for baseline measurements of women with hormonal imbalances and for Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) monitoring.  After utilizing the DUTCH test, you will be able to work with your medical provider to continue to track and evaluate hormone levels, ensuring they are at their optimum balance.  

Now, if you have Adrenal Exhaustion, know that physical symptoms do not always go away with treatment. Remember that true healing of any kind comes when you address the circumstances in your life that are the ultimate cause of your physical condition. 

Your diet and supplementation, exercise, and sleep routines are good areas to start with. Adopting healthier habits in these areas may give you a healthier foundation from which to address the underlying causes.

For information on ways to heal Adrenal Exhaustion, see Adrenal Fatigue: Symptoms and Healing Alternatives.

Related Video: The Number One Endocrine Disruptor?

Last Updated: November 20, 2017

Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Christiane Northrup, M.D.

Christiane Northrup, M.D., is a visionary pioneer and a leading authority in the field of women’s health and wellness. Recognizing the unity of body, mind, and spirit, she empowers women to trust their inner wisdom, their connection with Source, and their ability to truly flourish.

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  1. Cindy V
    1 year ago

    I have been so exhausted, with shortness of breath, and feels like someone is rocking my body back & forth, leaving me housebound for 9 months now. I’ve been to many doctors to check my lungs, heart, trips to ER, all with no answers and no diagnosis. I live alone and am isolated..feel like I’m dying. I’m trying to get into an Internist but don’t know if they’ll see me or help me. My body is severely sleep deprived due to nite sweats from nemopause. Any slight exertion makes me feel weak and faint. Should I go to a holistic doctor, or naturopath? I suspect my thyroid is off. Doctors tell me its “normal” but its not my normal. Beside cortisol test, is there any other tests I should have? I’m recovering from Ovarian Cancer (2yrs remission) so I don’t know if I can take DHEA, if its safe? Desperate. thank you for this website and I don’t feel so alone knowing that others are going through similar symptoms. Thank you

  2. Kath Bradbury
    2 years ago

    Good to find this site as this health issue is so confusing and you can feel so alone with it as not recognised by medical profession generally. I am being advised to take anti depressants but don’t which one would have least detrimental effect on adrenals.

  3. Gwen
    5 years ago

    Dr. Northrup, u are amazing! I’m 52. Was experiencing all symptoms of adrenal exhaustion. Felt like I was dying. A male co-worker (!) told me about Women to Women. I started the “workhorse” program 2 months ago. I felt better in 7 days! Two months in, and I’m close to 100%. I was relaxing a few nights ago, & remembered that Dr. Northrup was the co-founder of Women to Women with Marcelle Pick. (Brain fog lifting!) I am GRATEFUL that 2 powerful women came together. I have my life back!

  4. Tanya
    5 years ago

    Wow thank you Heather for this site. I can’t believe how sytcironichny works in this universe. While I have been aware of depression effecting me for sometime, I did not know how poorly I thought of myself, or treated myself it surely has been obvious to others, but I did not know. I just had an insight about this today, and then tonight I find your site and your comment about sitting on that darned wicker chair with the hole in it !

  5. Stephanie
    5 years ago

    Amelia, I smiled when u read your post. You said it best ‘being tired of being tired’. Is it nit us that knows our own bodies the best. Sending you light and positive energy.

  6. Amelia
    5 years ago

    ive been diagnosed with adrenal fatigue by my naturopath but my obgyn thinks my fatigue is from perimenopause symptoms like heavy bleeding. she put me on seasonique and after a month I feel more exhausted. my naturopath had me on progesterone but the obgyn didn’t agree with her treatment. I’m so confused. I’m just tired of feeling tired. how do you know who to believe??

    and thank you for all your books and wisdom.

  7. Lea
    5 years ago

    …complete healing is not my goal, but I’d like not to develop more organ-specific autoimmune diseases, and also to try to listen to and work with what was given me.

  8. Lea
    5 years ago

    I’ve been deeply touched by your work, and I wonder how this applies to Addison’s disease (and premature ovarian insufficiency). Is it the organ-symbolism or the autoimmune reaction that needs to be healed?

  9. Martine
    5 years ago

    I especially like today’s quote on finance and energy. We all need a team to come back to vibrant health. I have enjoyed “following” you since I listened to you in New Orleans at a wellness conference years back. Thanks for connecting with me last month. Merci.

  10. Randi Destefano
    5 years ago

    It’s encouraging to hear another doctor talking about adrenal fatigue. I’m finding this to be a discouraging and confusing journey, and don’t know who to believe. I’ve discovered that mainstream doctors don’t believe in adrenal fatigue and become angry when I tell them I’ve been to a doctor who has given this diagnosis. They even question their credentials. Wondering if anyone else has had this experience.

  11. Pati Chandler
    5 years ago

    Excellent article – most helpful! Knowing that all the hormones work together synchronicistically, one should be aware that the 7 other endorcine glands are also affected. When one is “wonky” the others are nearly always affected, such as adrenal, thyroid, pineal (mealtonin/sleep), etc. Thanks so much for this article! *:)

  12. Debbie Phillips
    5 years ago

    Thank you so much for your knowledge, insight and wisdom … you’ve been a constant source of support in my life for more than 30 years.

  13. Ej
    5 years ago

    I have low thyroid, adrenal exhaustion and a demanding job. This is part of the economic situation that no one talks about. There are countless people who kept their jobs, took on the work of their layed-off coworkers and are now suffering the health consequences. Medical leaves and disability ont the rise. Why is no one addressing this?

  14. Joline P
    5 years ago

    Thank you so much for your insights and willingness to share this great information monthly….although this particular one does not refer to me…..I do enjoy your healthy suggestions and holistic techniques and healings views

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