10 Signs of Adrenal Dysfunction (Other Than Fatigue)


The adrenal glands are small glandular tissues sitting above each of the kidneys. The inner portion, called the medulla, secretes adrenaline and is an extension of the sympathetic nervous system. The larger outer portion, called the cortex, is responsible for secreting various steroid hormones, and cortisol is the hormone that usually gets the most attention.               

Cortisol is a key component of our “stress-response system”. The stress-response-system start at the brain. When the brain is triggered by a stressor, it elicits some reaction that will drives the production of cortisol.

Cortisol has many functions that enables our body to respond to various stressors through the release of stored resources within the body — glycogen from liver to become blood sugar, protein and fatty acids mobilization. It is the primary hormone directing the immune function and acts as an anti-inflammatory agent. Cortisol affects every major organs and body system; the heart, blood pressure, water and electrolyte balance, the brain, our behavior & mood, digestive system, etc.

As these actions of cortisol are catabolic, the body’s normal response is to follow this with a release of DHEA (from adrenal gland) and growth hormone to help repair the catabolic effects of cortisol. Under normal conditions these systems are in balance.

When our body experience chronic and repeated stressors, it will have more tissue breakdowns instead of repair. The prolonged exposure of cortisol affect virtually every cell, organ and body system, which may exhibit in a myriad of symptoms depending on each individual.  

The consequences of stress are different for each individual. Common signs of adrenal dysfunction include:      

  1. Blood sugar dysregulation. Experiences of dizziness, shakiness or brain fog between or following meals; headaches, sleepiness, mood swing if skipping meals; craving for caffeine or sweets at mid-afternoon; waking up & feeling hungry at 2-3 am.   
  2. Depression, anxiety, mood swing, irritable.
  3. Insomnia.
  4. Poor learning & short term memory.
  5. Poor wound healing & easy bruising.
  6. Pain syndromes, such as chronic headaches, back pain, muscle & joint pain.
  7. Immune dysfunction. Experiences of chronic low-grade infections, frequent illness, allergies.  
  8. Liver detoxification dysfunction, with symptoms such as general weakness, fatigue, digestive disturbances (e.g, constipation, nausea, vomiting), allergies & chemical sensitivities, weight loss, jaundice, mental confusion, general itching.
  9. Low thyroid hormone, with symptoms such as fatigue, weight gain, increase sensitivity to cold, constipation, dry skin, thinning hair, puffy face, muscle weakness/ache/tenderness/stiffness, joint pain/swelling/stiffness, high cholesterol, heavy or irregular menstruation, slow heart rate, depression, impaired memory.
  10. Premenstrual syndrome, with symptoms such as depression, irritability, mood swing, bloating, puffiness, cramping, migraine, poor sleeping, difficult to focus, joint aches.

Everyone, at some points, will experience events that challenge their stress-response system, which will affecting their health. If you identify with some of these symptoms, your body is sending signals that life’s stresses are overwhelming its ability to keep up.