Adrenal insufficiency—also called Addison's disease—is a condition that affects hormone levels in the body. Diagnoses suggest only around 1 in every 100,000 people develop adrenal insufficiency, though there has been more discussion around it in recent years.
Adrenal insufficiency occurs when the adrenal glands, responsible for the production of adrenaline, aldosterone, and cortisol, don't produce enough vital hormones. This causes a range of symptoms, most notably fatigue, muscular pain, and weight loss.
Many factors can leave a person feeling fatigued, which is more than just feeling tired; it's defined as an extreme lack of energy that is often not improved by rest. Activity levels, age, and general fitness can all influence how energized a person feels. But abnormal cortisol and aldosterone levels can also cause severe exhaustion.
That's why fatigue is often considered one of the most indicative symptoms of adrenal insufficiency. If the body cannot produce enough hormones for energy, the body will feel tired regardless of how much sleep its getting. Dietary changes, as well as increased physical activity, can help recover energy levels, though these treatments might not be enough if a condition like adrenal insufficiency is to blame.
Hormone disruptions like those caused by adrenal insufficiency can make a person irritable and highly sensitive. In addition to increased agitation and stress, people with adrenal insufficiency may have a harder-than-normal time processing highly emotional situations, which can make them excessively sad or angry.
A decreased libido or interest in sex is another possible symptom of adrenal insufficiency. This can develop slowly, affecting both interest and enjoyment in intimacy. This is another result of decreased or imbalanced hormone levels.
Low libido can lead to other issues in a person's relationships, especially when paired with increased emotionality.
Low levels of adrenal hormones, as well as other hormonal imbalances, affect sleep, leaving people feeling exhausted and irritated in the morning, or even dizzy. Adrenal insufficiency can impair REM sleep, which means even if a person slept for eight hours, the quality of the sleep was poor.
This leads to a strong urge to nap throughout the day, which can further impact sleep quality and, if hormones are the cause, will not improve fatigue.
People with adrenal insufficiency can develop caffeine dependency as they try to counteract their exhaustion. A morning cup of coffee can turn into multiple cups a day, which can further impact emotion and sleep and can be a difficult habit to break.
Low cortisol levels can lead to inflammation and other symptoms that impact the immune system. The body must devote so many resources to dealing with these symptoms that it does not have the energy to fend off infection.
This makes catching a cold or the flu much more probable, and can even increase the risk of chronic conditions.
Changes in the adrenal glands' production of adrenal hormones, particularly aldoserone and cortisol, can affect kidney function and fluid excretion. Some people with adrenal insufficiency report higher levels of urination, with larger than normal amounts of mineral content.
Increased urination has side effects like increased thirst, and it also impacts sleep if the bladder is forcing the person to get up multiple times through the night.
The stomach and whole digestive system can be impacted by adrenal insufficiency. The person may feel localized or general pain in the area of the abdomen and experience abnormal bowel movements.
Cortisol, one of the hormones the adrenal glands supply, is also linked to inflammation, and disruption in its production can lead to inflammatory digestive conditions.
Nausea, which can lead to vomiting, is another common symptom of adrenal insufficiency. In rare cases, nausea paired with pain may indicate adrenal crisis, a serious event that indicates extremely unbalanced hormone levels. This event also often results in a fever and requires immediate medical attention.
There are many causes of joint pain, and adrenal insufficiency is one of them. In addition to pain in the joints, due to inflammation or other hormone issues, people with adrenal insufficiency may experience chronic muscle pain.
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