Adrenal Fatigue or a Thyroid Problem?

Last updated on May 16th, 2022 at 06:43 am

Adrenal Fatigue or a Thyroid Problem?

Everybody experiences tiredness at times. After a long day, kicking off your shoes, collapsing on to the sofa and dozing off within minutes is actually perfectly normal. What isn’t normal however, is a feeling that you’re constantly tired.

Struggling to maintain your current routine, coupled with poor clarity in thinking, can actually be a sign that something more is wrong, rather than just poor sleep and overworking. More and more people find that in 21st century life, symptoms they believe to be innocent are actually down to adrenal fatigue and/or thyroidal dysfunction.

What is Adrenal Fatigue?

Internal structure of kidneys with adrenal gland

The adrenal glands are small, nut-shaped glands that can be found just above the kidneys. These glands are responsible for your hormonal profile, which affects everything from mood, to sex drive. The adrenal glands help power you when you’re tired, and help your body react to stress by organizing its natural fight or flight defense system.

In healthy individuals, the adrenal glands work at a routine rate, ensuring a balance in energy levels and overall health exists throughout the body. In certain individuals however, whether down to prolonged stress, poor living standards or a genetic disposition, these adrenal glands become taxed, leading to an ailment known as adrenal fatigue.

What Are the Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue?

Many symptoms of adrenal fatigue can be guessed judging by the condition’s name. Mood disorders, low sex drive and overwhelming tiredness are the main symptoms, though a more in depth list can be found below.

  • Hormonal imbalances, notably testosterone, DHEA, progesterone and cortisol
  • Unrelenting tiredness, even after a cup of coffee, or a good night’s sleep
  • Poor concentration levels that lead to difficulties studying or working
  • Difficulty “thinking clearly”
  • Little to no interest in sex

Thyroid Problems, Another Cause of Fatigue

Diagnosing the reason for your fatigue isn’t as straightforward as you’d probably like it to be. Symptoms of various conditions can overlap, meaning it’s harder to form a concrete diagnosis. Thyroid problems are another reason for fatigue, also found on the hormonal spectrum. It’s estimated that some 20 million Americans suffer from a type of thyroid dysfunction, 60% of whom aren’t receiving treatment.

Your thyroid, unlike your adrenal glands, is located in your neck, near to the Adam’s apple.

Thyroid Symptoms

If you suspect that you or somebody you know has a thyroid problem, take a look at the list of symptoms below. We’ve listed the five most commonly experienced ones according to the American Medical Journal:

  • Depression
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Weight changes (both weight loss and weight gain)
  • Fatigue
  • Thinking difficulties

Is It Thyroid or Adrenal Fatigue?

Deciding on whether thyroid or adrenal problems are behind your tiredness can usually be done with a standard blood test. Hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism can both be diagnosed by looking at the levels of thyroid-stimulating hormones in your blood.

Adrenal fatigue can be a little harder to diagnose. The condition is still a controversial topic in medicine, with some practitioners choosing to acknowledge it, while others choose to remain skeptical.

Traditional testing for adrenal fatigue involves testing cortisol and DHEA levels, and making a diagnosis based on their levels plus any symptoms that may be present. Alternative practitioners have been known to test hormonal levels from saliva, which they believe enables them to check levels over an extended period, rather than the singular fixed period that’s tested when going for a blood draw.

Do Thyroid Problems and Adrenal Fatigue Overlap?

The short answer to that question would be, yes.

As we mentioned earlier in this article, unfortunately, deciphering the cause behind your fatigue will take a little time and effort. While thyroid health can be determined by a blood test, knowing whether that health is general health, or the health of somebody affected by adrenal fatigue isn’t straight forward.

Once the adrenal glands have been taxed for a long enough period of time, an inflammatory response within your body will be set off, affecting your joints, digestive health, and of course, your thyroid.

Every organ in your body is affected by a high level of inner inflammation, as well as increased levels of cortisol, but none more so than the thyroid gland. Those suffering from even the slightest of thyroid issues will find their problems worsen, while those taking medicine for their problem will often find they require a larger dose.

Treating Adrenal Fatigue and Thyroid Problems

Finding a doctor or alternative practitioner that specializes in adrenal health is the best way to tackle any perceived adrenal disorder you believe you may have. They’ll help with testing, as well as give you lifestyle tips to ensure you return to your old, energetic self.

Treating hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism is theoretically much easier. After having your levels determined by your doctor, a suitable level of thyroxine will usually be prescribed to help you get your levels normalized again. If diagnosed with a thyroid problem, it’s still worth checking for adrenal fatigue, just in case it is a correlating illness making your thyroid problem worse than it needs to be.

How Much Better Can You Feel?

However you feel at this point, however frustrated your symptoms have caused you to become, treating your hormonal disorder (if you do indeed have one) will open up the doorway to better health. Energy levels should improve with treatment, as should ease of thinking. Trouble getting out of bed in the morning will be replaced by a desire to be more active, and depression will make way for enthusiasm.

If you feel you have an hormonal disorder, don’t delay in seeking treatment. Hormonal imbalances can affect every aspect of your life, not just your energy levels. High cortisol levels and high levels of bodily inflammation also raise the risk of other illnesses, such as organ problems and even cancer.

Try to employ both a medical and alternative care plan if your problems are severe, or just an alternative one if you believe you suffer from some degree of adrenal fatigue.

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Anna Curran. RN, BSN, PHN

Anna Curran. RN-BC, BSN, PHN, CMSRN I am a Critical Care ER nurse. I have been in this field for over 30 years. I also began teaching BSN and LVN students and found that by writing additional study guides helped their knowledge base, especially when it was time to take the NCLEX examinations.

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