If you've been feeling lethargic and burnt out, you may assume you're just tired. But sometimes, feeling fatigued can actually indicate another health issue. If you're experiencing low energy and feel like your body is off, you may be exhibiting signs of adrenal fatigue, which can often be mistaken for just tiredness.
Although adrenal fatigue isn't a technical medical diagnosis, it is one increasingly used in alternative medicine to describe "a group of related signs and symptoms (a syndrome) that results when the adrenal glands function below the necessary level," according to WebMD.
"It is often used to describe the feeling of being excessively tired or fatigued along with other symptoms attributed to the adrenal gland," women's health expert Sherry Ross, MD, OB/GYN, tells Bustle. Stress is thought to cause all of the adrenal fatigue symptoms. Continuing stress exacerbates all the symptoms and causes the body to shut down in various and unexpected ways."
Feeling tired is a common symptom associated with a long list of other medical conditions, so it's important you consult with your doctor to get a proper diagnosis if you feel like something is off. Here are seven signs that you are not tired and may actually have adrenal fatigue, according to experts.
Your Body Aches
If your exhaustion is accompanied by body aches or muscle and joint pain, it could be adrenal fatigue, physician Dr. Foye Ikyaator, tells Bustle. Adrenal fatigue can also lead to your body feeling weaker than usual. "Low levels of adrenal cortisol can lead to muscle weakness and feeling especially drained," Dr. Greuner says.
Your Sleep Patterns Are Off
Adrenal fatigue can cause ongoing fatigue and other sleep issues that extend beyond just being tired. "Common symptoms of adrenal fatigue include feeling tired often, struggling to fall asleep at night, inability to stay asleep or wake up in the morning, and mid-afternoon slumps," Dr. Greuner says.
Your Appetite Has Changed
If you notice that your desire for food has changed or you have unexplained shifts in weight, your adrenal function may be to blame. "During times of elevated stress, loss of appetite and weight loss are common," Dr. Greuner says. Many people also have digestive problems, which can alter your appetite.
Your Blood Pressure Is Low
Low blood pressure is another possible symptom of adrenal fatigue. "Low blood pressure with standing, also known as postural hypotension, is due to reduced activity of [hormones produced by the adrenal cortex]" Dr. Ikyaator says. "This leads to the feeling of light headedness or fainting"
You Have Skin Hyperpigmentation
Adrenal issues can also lead to skin troubles. Some people with adrenal fatigue experience skin hyperpigmentation, with an increase of dark spots on the skin, according to Dr. Ikyaator. "This is due to elevated levels of melanocyte stimulating hormones and increased melanin synthesis," she says.
You Have Food Cravings
Another common symptom of adrenal fatigue is food cravings, specifically sugary and salty foods. Because your blood sugar is low, which causes your energy to be low, you're more likely to crave sweet foods. On the other hand, salt cravings are due to reduced activity of mineralocorticoids, or salt-balancing hormones, on the kidneys, Dr. Ikyaator says.
It can be difficult to tell if you're just tired or suffering from hormone issues, but if you are experiencing these symptoms alongside your lethargy, you may have adrenal fatigue. Consult with your physician who can help you get to the root of your exhaustion.