The adrenal glands are endocrine glands that produce a variety of different hormones including adrenaline and the steroids aldosterone and cortisol. They are located above the kidneys.
What is adrenal fatigue?
“The term “adrenal fatigue” has been used to explain a group of symptoms that are said to occur in people who are under long-term mental, emotional, or physical stress.”- hormone.org.
Adrenal glands play an important role in our hormonal balance. Hormonal balance is something so interconnected in different parts of our body and so important that, once you have a dysfunction in one part of the hormonal system everything else can be affected.
Having said that, hormonal imbalance in the adrenal glands can produce symptoms that are quite similar to menopausal symptoms, making it difficult for women to uncover the underlying cause of their issues. This is why it’s important for women to understand how adrenal fatigue and menopause symptoms could overlap, and the ways in which adrenal fatigue and menopause are connected.
Science has not proven adrenal fatigue yet. In fact, endocrinology society does not recognise adrenal fatigue. This is because, all the studies performed so far either have not provided a clear answer or did not use a large enough number of patients. Individual variability makes the definition even more difficult.
What are the common symptoms of adrenal fatigue?
Adrenal glands produce cortisol and other hormones mostly in response to stress. As such, ongoing and persistent stressors have the potential to result in adrenal fatigue and therefore give symptoms that resemble those of menopause.
Symptoms of adrenal fatigue include:
- Mood swings, irritability
- Increased pre-menstrual syndrome (PMS)
- Sleep difficulties
- Heavy bleeding/irregular bleeding
- Uterine fibroids
- Decreased libido
- Hot flashes and night sweats
- Vaginal dryness
- Skin changes
- Dry eyes
- Urinary incontinence
- Heart palpitations
- Joint pain/stiffness
- Breast tenderness, cysts or nipple discharge
As most of you already know, many of the symptoms listed above are the same during perimenopause. So, sometimes adrenal fatigue can be mistaken for menopause and the other way around.
Having said all the above, even if many doctors deny the existence of adrenal fatigue and thinks that other causes give rise to those symptoms, we will explore why menopausal symptoms and adrenal glands are connected.
How are menopause and adrenal fatigue connected?
Basically, adrenal fatigue and menopause are connected in two ways. The pituitary gland influences both of these conditions, via the hypothalamus, which in turn directs hormone production by the ovaries and the adrenal glands. The pituitary gland, or hypophysis, is an endocrine gland, about the size of a pea, and it is a protrusion located off the bottom of the hypothalamus.
Environmental stimuli and internal feedback are other factors that can impact hormone levels. During extremely challenging periods in a woman’s life, the stress response can take over and push aside sex hormone production. Leading to a hormonal imbalance. Hormonal imbalance can be due to endocrine disruptors such as some chemicals and other pollutant.
Additionally, the adrenal glands are able to produce sex hormones when their levels drastically decline during perimenopause. However, current or built up stress can deplete the adrenal glands and inhibit their ability to boost sex hormones. As a result, adrenal fatigue can worsen a woman’s menopause symptoms.
Perimenopause and adrenal fatigue
If you’re thinking that most of the symptoms listed above could also be signs of perimenopause, you’re right. As women near the end of their reproductive years, hormones like progesterone and oestrogen start to fluctuate. This can sometimes lead to fatigue, trouble sleeping, weight gain, moodiness, and foggy brain. So how do you know what your real problem is?
If you consider adrenal fatigue as an option, you and your doctor will have to do some research. You can start by considering your age and menstrual cycle. A 25-year-old with no family history of premature ovarian failure (early menopause) who feels anxious and gets palpitations during the night is unlikely to be in perimenopause; in this case, an adrenal issue is more likely to be responsible.
On the other hand , a 52-year-old woman with very little stress in her life who, all of a sudden, starts getting hot flashes, feels anxious, and develops a sleep disorder is more likely to be experiencing perimenopause.
Of course, most cases aren’t that simple, and some women between the ages of 30 and 45 can be especially more difficult to diagnose. It is also possible to be going through perimenopause with an adrenal problem on top.
What should I do?
There aren’t any routine tests to check for perimenopause, but it’s always a good idea to talk to your primary care doctor or your gynaecologist about your symptoms, to start with. They might be able to confirm the likelihood of you going through the perimenopause or suggest screening for other problems.