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What Does Adrenal Burnout Feel Like?

what does adrenal burnout feel like
Jun 20 2024

What Does Adrenal Burnout Feel Like?

What Are the Stages of Adrenal Fatigue?

Adrenal burnout, also known as adrenal fatigue, is a term used to describe a group of nonspecific symptoms such as body aches, fatigue, nervousness, sleep disturbances, and digestive problems. Although it’s not recognized as a distinct medical condition by many medical professionals, the concept resonates with a significant number of patients who experience these symptoms without a clear diagnosis. Understanding the adrenal glands and their role in the body can help clarify what adrenal burnout feels like.


Understanding the Adrenal Glands

The adrenal glands are small, triangular-shaped glands located on top of each kidney. They produce hormones that are vital to the body’s stress response, metabolism, immune system, and other essential functions. The primary hormones produced by the adrenal glands include cortisol, adrenaline (epinephrine), and aldosterone. These hormones play critical roles in the body’s ability to respond to stress and maintain homeostasis.


Cortisol: The Stress Hormone

Cortisol is perhaps the most well-known hormone produced by the adrenal glands. It helps regulate metabolism, reduce inflammation, and assist with memory formulation. It also has a diurnal rhythm, peaking in the early morning to help wake us up and gradually declining throughout the day to prepare the body for sleep. Chronic stress can disrupt this rhythm and lead to an imbalance in cortisol production.


Adrenaline: The Fight-or-Flight Hormone

Adrenaline, also known as epinephrine, is responsible for the immediate response to stress. It prepares the body for a quick reaction by increasing heart rate, expanding air passages in the lungs, and providing a burst of energy. While this response is crucial in life-threatening situations, chronic activation can contribute to the symptoms associated with adrenal burnout.


Aldosterone: The Salt-Water Balance Hormone

Aldosterone helps regulate blood pressure by maintaining the balance of salt and water in the body. It signals the kidneys to retain sodium and excrete potassium, which helps control blood volume and, consequently, blood pressure. Dysregulation of aldosterone can lead to symptoms such as dizziness, salt cravings, and low blood pressure.


The Symptoms of Adrenal Burnout


One of the most common and debilitating symptoms of adrenal burnout is chronic fatigue. Patients often describe it as a deep, unrelenting tiredness that doesn’t improve with rest or sleep. This fatigue can be physical, mental, or a combination of both. It’s not simply feeling tired after a long day but profound exhaustion that makes it difficult to perform everyday tasks.


Sleep Disturbances

Sleep issues are prevalent in individuals experiencing adrenal burnout. These can include difficulty falling asleep, frequent waking during the night, or waking up feeling unrefreshed. The disrupted cortisol rhythm, often seen in adrenal fatigue, can lead to increased nighttime cortisol levels, making it hard to achieve restful sleep.


Anxiety and Nervousness

Adrenal burnout can also manifest as increased anxiety and a feeling of nervousness or jitteriness. This can be a result of the body being in a constant state of ‘fight or flight’ due to chronic stress. Patients may report feeling constantly on edge, with an inability to relax even in situations that aren’t typically stressful.


Digestive Issues

Digestive problems are another common complaint. Symptoms can include bloating, abdominal pain, and changes in bowel habits, such as diarrhea or constipation. The stress response can alter gut motility and enzyme production, leading to these uncomfortable gastrointestinal symptoms.


Muscle and Joint Pain

Chronic stress and altered cortisol levels can contribute to muscle and joint pain. This pain is often diffuse and can be accompanied by stiffness and soreness. Patients might feel as though they’ve overexerted themselves physically, even if they haven’t engaged in strenuous activity.


Cravings for Salt and Sugar

Cravings for salty and sugary foods are frequently reported by individuals with adrenal burnout. These cravings can be linked to the body’s attempt to balance sodium levels and boost energy. The dysregulation of aldosterone can cause the body to lose sodium, leading to salt cravings. Similarly, low cortisol levels can result in low blood sugar, prompting a craving for sugary foods.


Low Blood Pressure and Dizziness

Low blood pressure and associated dizziness are symptoms that some patients experience, particularly when moving from a sitting or lying position to standing. This condition, known as orthostatic hypotension, can be linked to aldosterone dysregulation and the body’s difficulty in maintaining blood pressure stability.


Decreased Libido

A reduction in sexual desire is another symptom of adrenal burnout. Chronic stress and hormonal imbalances can negatively impact the production of sex hormones, leading to decreased libido. Patients may find that their interest in sexual activity diminishes significantly.


Mood Changes

Mood swings, irritability, and depression are psychological symptoms associated with adrenal burnout. The imbalance in cortisol and other hormones can affect neurotransmitter function, leading to changes in mood and emotional stability.


Approaching Adrenal Burnout

Comprehensive Evaluation

When symptoms suggestive of adrenal burnout are present, a thorough evaluation is essential. This includes a detailed medical history, physical examination, and appropriate laboratory testing. It’s important to rule out other medical conditions that can mimic the symptoms of adrenal fatigue, such as thyroid disorders, anemia, chronic infections, and autoimmune diseases.


Hormone Testing

Hormone testing is a critical component of the evaluation process. This can include measuring cortisol levels through blood, saliva, or urine tests. A common approach is the salivary cortisol test, which involves collecting saliva samples at multiple times throughout the day to assess the diurnal pattern of cortisol secretion. Additionally, tests for other hormones like aldosterone, DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), and sex hormones may be conducted.


Lifestyle and Stress Management

Addressing lifestyle factors and stress management is a cornerstone of treatment for adrenal burnout. Patients are encouraged to adopt a balanced diet rich in whole foods, adequate hydration, regular physical activity, and sufficient sleep. Stress reduction techniques such as mindfulness, meditation, yoga, and deep-breathing exercises can also be beneficial. Encouraging patients to identify and reduce sources of chronic stress is vital.


Nutritional Support

Nutritional support can play a role in managing adrenal burnout. This may involve the use of supplements to support adrenal function, such as vitamin C, B vitamins, magnesium, and adaptogenic herbs like ashwagandha and Rhodiola. However, it’s crucial to approach supplementation with caution and under the guidance of a healthcare professional.


Medical Management

In some cases, medical management may be necessary. This can include the use of medications to address specific symptoms or underlying conditions. For example, patients with significant anxiety may benefit from anxiolytic medications, while those with severe insomnia might require short-term use of sleep aids.


Monitoring and Follow-Up

Regular follow-up appointments are important to monitor progress and adjust treatment plans as needed. This ongoing support helps ensure that patients are on the right track and allows for timely intervention if new symptoms arise or existing symptoms worsen.



Adrenal burnout, while not officially recognized as a medical diagnosis, encompasses a range of symptoms that significantly impact the quality of life for many individuals. Understanding the complexities of adrenal function and its interplay with the rest of the body is crucial in providing effective care. By taking a comprehensive and individualized approach, we can help patients navigate the challenges of adrenal burnout and work towards restoring balance and vitality. For more information about balancing hormones or to test for imbalances, contact us at Vitality Aesthetic & Regenerative Medicine.