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Adrenal Dysfunction: Symptoms & Stages

By: California Center of Longevity & Functional Medicine on June 30, 2015, 12:52 pm


Adrenal dysfunction is responsible for a variety of symptoms and conditions, though it is rarely diagnosed by a Western Medicine trained physician. Western Medicine looks to provide relief from symptoms, typically via a prescription for a medication. It often falls short of taking a closer look, or investigating the cause of the symptoms.

For example, individuals who visit a physician because they are having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep are often written a prescription for a sleeping pill, or a sedative. While the medication will likely treat the symptom, that’s all the medication will do. The individual will have no idea how to treat the underlying cause of the sleepless nights. In the United States alone, more than 500,000 individuals suffer from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, with millions more suffering from ongoing exhaustion caused by adrenal dysfunction.

Fatigue and/or insomnia are just a couple of the symptoms of adrenal dysfunction. Other symptoms include cravings for salty/fatty foods, irritability, body aches, sore muscles, and stress and anxiety. Unfortunately many people assume these aches, cravings and mood swings are just a normal part of life and/or aging.

Adrenal dysfunction is diagnosed through testing of cortisol levels. The adrenal gland is responsible for releasing the hormone cortisol, so a painless salivary hormone test will show whether the amount of cortisol your adrenal gland is producing is appropriate, or whether you’re suffering from one of three stages of adrenal dysfunction.

Stage 1 adrenal dysfunction is called "Hyper-Cortisol." This stage of dysfunction is marked by symptoms including a feeling of anxiousness or restlessness. This is because the adrenal gland is producing too much cortisol. As a result individuals may also notice they have more energy at night versus during the day. The high levels of cortisol can ultimately suppress other immune functions, thereby putting the individual at greater risk for illness.

Stage 2 adrenal dysfunction is also known as "Cortisol Dominant." This stage results from an adjustment to ongoing acute adrenal dysfunction, or an accumulation of ongoing stress without proper recuperation. Those with Stage 2 adrenal dysfunction may have disruptions to natural circadian rhythms and therefore struggle to get enough sleep, or sleep soundly. As such individuals with Stage 2 adrenal dysfunction often feel tired even though they have slept.

Stage 3 adrenal dysfunction is known as "Hypo-Cortisol." This stage of adrenal dysfunction will often present with severe pain, fatigue, insomnia and perhaps as the result, depression. Test results will show depleted levels of cortisol, and individuals may find basic life tasks increasingly difficult to complete.

Adrenal dysfunction can be reversed, along with ensuing symptoms, once the proper diagnosis has been made. All individuals who think that adrenal dysfunction may be to blame for sleepless nights, pain, anxiety or irritability should consult their physician to learn more.

Allan Kurtz, D.O. is a Board Certified Internist practicing in Woodland Hills, California. He is fellowship trained in Functional Medicine, and Integrative Medicine. He is a member of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine, and The Institute for Functional Medicine.