Is there such a thing as adrenal fatigue?

Answer From Ann Kearns, M.D., Ph.D.

Adrenal fatigue isn't an accepted medical diagnosis. It is a lay term applied to a collection of nonspecific symptoms, such as body aches, fatigue, nervousness, sleep disturbances and digestive problems.

Your adrenal glands produce a variety of hormones that are essential to life. The medical term "adrenal insufficiency" refers to inadequate production of one or more of these hormones as a result of an underlying disease or surgery.

Signs and symptoms of adrenal insufficiency may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Body aches
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Low blood pressure
  • Lightheadedness
  • Loss of body hair
  • Skin discoloration (hyperpigmentation)

Adrenal insufficiency can be diagnosed by blood tests and special stimulation tests that show inadequate levels of adrenal hormones.

Proponents of the adrenal fatigue diagnosis claim this is a mild form of adrenal insufficiency caused by chronic stress. The unproven theory behind adrenal fatigue is that your adrenal glands are unable to keep pace with the demands of perpetual fight-or-flight arousal. Existing blood tests, according to this theory, aren't sensitive enough to detect such a small decline in adrenal function — but your body is.

It's frustrating to have persistent symptoms your doctor can't readily explain. But accepting a medically unrecognized diagnosis from an unqualified practitioner may leave the real cause — such as depression or fibromyalgia — undiagnosed, while it continues to take its toll.


Ann Kearns, M.D., Ph.D.

From Mayo Clinic to your inbox

Sign up for free and stay up to date on research advancements, health tips, current health topics, and expertise on managing health. Click here for an email preview.

To provide you with the most relevant and helpful information, and understand which information is beneficial, we may combine your email and website usage information with other information we have about you. If you are a Mayo Clinic patient, this could include protected health information. If we combine this information with your protected health information, we will treat all of that information as protected health information and will only use or disclose that information as set forth in our notice of privacy practices. You may opt-out of email communications at any time by clicking on the unsubscribe link in the e-mail.

April 16, 2022 See more Expert Answers

See also

  1. Abdominal pain
  2. Addison's disease
  3. Antidepressant withdrawal: Is there such a thing?
  4. Antidepressants and alcohol: What's the concern?
  5. Antidepressants and weight gain: What causes it?
  6. Antidepressants: Can they stop working?
  7. Antidepressants: Side effects
  8. Antidepressants: Selecting one that's right for you
  9. Antidepressants: Which cause the fewest sexual side effects?
  10. Atypical antidepressants
  11. Back pain
  12. Clinical depression: What does that mean?
  13. CT scan
  14. Dehydration
  15. Depression and anxiety: Can I have both?
  16. Depression, anxiety and exercise
  17. What is depression? A Mayo Clinic expert explains.
  18. Depression in women: Understanding the gender gap
  19. Depression (major depressive disorder)
  20. Depression: Supporting a family member or friend
  21. Diarrhea
  22. Fatigue
  23. Female orgasm: No climax with vaginal penetration?
  24. Female sexual dysfunction
  25. High potassium (hyperkalemia)
  26. Hypoglycemia
  27. Joint pain
  28. Leg pain
  29. Leg pain after prolonged standing or sitting
  30. Low blood pressure (hypotension)
  31. Male depression: Understanding the issues
  32. MAOIs and diet: Is it necessary to restrict tyramine?
  33. Marijuana and depression
  34. Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
  35. MRI
  36. Muscle pain
  37. Natural remedies for depression: Are they effective?
  38. Nausea and vomiting
  39. Nervous breakdown: What does it mean?
  40. Pain and depression: Is there a link?
  41. Prednisone risks, benefits
  42. Prednisone withdrawal: Why taper down slowly?
  43. Salt craving: A symptom of Addison's disease?
  44. Seeing inside the heart with MRI
  45. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
  46. Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
  47. Treatment-resistant depression
  48. Tricyclic antidepressants and tetracyclic antidepressants
  49. Unexplained weight loss
  50. MRI
  51. Vitamin B-12 and depression