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The adrenal glands are part of the endocrine system and are located directly above the kidneys. They secrete any number of hormones, including the anti-stress hormone cortisol. The primary cause of adrenal fatigue and exhaustion is stress, which can include physical, emotional, mental, or environmental stress. Adrenal exhaustion symptoms generally include chronic fatigue, changes in blood pressure, depression, recurring infections, reduced sex drive, brain fog, fibromyalgia, hypoglycemia, and insomnia. For this reason, the adrenals play an important role in the body's line of defense against stress.
In the presence of chronic stress, the adrenal glands may become dysfunctional. During this condition, the body can require excessive amounts of cortisol. Over time, the adrenals may become unable to keep up with the body's demands for this anti-stress hormone.
Adrenal fatigue progresses in stages as the adrenals become less able to manage stress. Stage three of adrenal fatigue is known as adrenal exhaustion. At this stage, cortisol production gradually declines and the affected person is no longer able to function normally throughout the day.
While in a state of adrenal exhaustion, the body's main priority is to conserve energy to ensure survival. It begins to break down muscle tissue as a source of energy; at this point, adrenal exhaustion symptoms typically appear. Exercise capacity is reduced due to muscle waste, and fibromyalgia, depression, and chronic fatigue set in. Toxic metabolites accumulate, thereby causing brain fog and insomnia. Adrenaline rushes, hypoglycemic episodes, unstable blood pressure, and anxiety attacks may be experienced as the body tries to repair itself.
If the body is unable to recover, more adrenal exhaustion symptoms could appear as the body cuts back on non-essential functions in a further attempt to conserve energy. Typically, libido is reduced, metabolism is slowed, and digestion is impaired. Fatigue may become severe, and the affected person may spend most of his or her day in bed.
The final stage of adrenal fatigue, known as adrenal failure, may result if adrenal exhaustion symptoms are allowed to persist. People afflicted with adrenal failure are at high risk for cardiovascular collapse and death. Signs that adrenal failure has occurred may include severe vomiting and diarrhea, dehydration, low blood pressure, loss of consciousness, and sudden pain in the lower back, abdomen, or legs. To avoid serious health complications, the symptoms of adrenal exhaustion typically should be addressed as soon as possible.