If you suffer from extreme fatigue, you’re familiar with the constant feeling of exhaustion even after lots of rest—in fact, sleep may do nothing to curb your tiredness. Contrary to popular belief, this type of fatigue is not simply “being tired.” This exhaustion leaves you unable to go about your daily routine. Many times, physicians will struggle to find the root cause of your condition. Some may diagnose you with chronic fatigue syndrome, but most will not diagnose you with adrenal fatigue. If you never knew about these diagnoses, you’re not alone. That’s why we’ve set out to educate you on the topic of adrenal fatigue vs. chronic fatigue.
How Does Stress Work?
Since long-term stress can play a key role in the development of fatigue, it’s important that you understand how your body’s stress response works.
There are three parts that make up your central stress response system:
1) Hypothalamus (a brain structure)
2) Pituitary gland
3) Adrenal glands
Together, they are called the HPA axis. This is how they work with one another:
When you encounter a stressor, your hypothalamus controls the release of hormones from the pituitary gland. In turn, these hormones influence the release of hormones from your adrenal glands (which are located above the kidneys).
While your HPA axis can handle short and intense periods of stress, chronic stress can wreak havoc on your system.
Adrenal Fatigue vs. Chronic Fatigue
What is Adrenal Fatigue?
Traditionally, the idea of adrenal fatigue meant you suffered from a condition where your adrenal glands stopped producing cortisol (the stress hormone).
However, we have now discovered that the truth is much different and more firmly rooted in science. At this point, you already know that your body struggles with bouts of stress that last for weeks or months. After some time, your HPA axis does not respond to stressors as effectively, which lowers the amount of cortisol and adrenaline you produce. Sometimes these hormone levels drop very low, resulting in low energy levels, frequent sickness, and dizziness when you stand up.
What is Chronic Fatigue?
The main reason why chronic fatigue occurs is due to improper mitochondrial function. In this case, your mitochondria (the powerhouse of your cells) do not produce enough energy for your body to work as it should. Many different factors can affect these structures, including:
- Gut problems
Any of these factors can also lead to a prolonged stress response, which affects your HPA axis. As a result, chronic fatigue can also lead to adrenal fatigue.
Note that adrenal fatigue cannot cause chronic fatigue. Additionally, you can test for adrenal fatigue through salivary samples, blood tests, and urine tests. There is no such test for chronic fatigue.
Which One Do I Have?
While reading the back and forth on adrenal fatigue vs. chronic fatigue, you may suspect that you have one of these conditions—or even both. To begin, you may decide to visit an integrative medicine practitioner who can provide you with salivary cortisol tests.
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