There are few things more frustrating than not being taken seriously by your GP. While no-one minds being contradicted by a knowledgeable professional who has taken the time to consider your personal situation, an outright dismissal based on ignorance tends to get under then skin. This dismissal occurs repeatedly when individuals approach their doctors to explain that they may have adrenal fatigue. Tragically, many doctors still think that adrenal fatigue is Addison’s disease, and dismiss their patient on this basis.
Adrenal fatigue is not Addison’s disease. While both share low production of cortisol as a common feature, individuals with adrenal fatigue can usually go about their daily tasks; those suffering with the latter find themselves bed-bound. Adrenal fatigue causes problems with sleeping, concentration and libido; Addison’s is life-threatening.
This is not to question the seriousness of adrenal fatigue. Far from it. Whereas the grave symptoms of Addison’s normally forces medical professionals into a swift intervention, the non-specific issues that accompany adrenal fatigue often result in a dismissive attitude that treats patients like hypochondriacs. As a result, it is not unusual for clients to contact me after years of struggling through each day.
Addison’s disease often occurs due to autoimmunity and tuberculosis, and results an little or no production of cortisol. Because cortisol affects blood sugar levels, blood pressure and energy production, this dramatic loss of the hormone can leave sufferers unable to function and dependent on supplementary hydrocortisone for life. In contrast, adrenal fatigue occurs following excessive stress. It too causes a significant drop in cortisol, although levels of the steroid hormone remain sufficient to go about day-to-day tasks. However, those with adrenal fatigue find themselves fighting severe tiredness, sugar and salt cravings, poor concentration, increased allergies, low blood pressure, poor digestion and lowered sex drive.
Because adrenal fatigue can exist in a number of stages, it is not unusual to see a different blend of symptoms in different individuals. Same underlying dysfunction, very personal experience. Cortisol and DHEA levels can rise or fall independently of one another, and this further affects the way a person feels each day. This confuses doctors, whose training does not cover adrenal function. The medical model prefers to group together symptoms to reach a diagnosis of a named syndrome, then dispense the appropriate drugs as listed in the Physicians Desk Reference.
Dealing with adrenal dysfunction requires a separate approach. Symptoms do not fall into any particular box, which presents a challenge. Currently, this normally results in a dismissive attitude from doctors; countless clients have contacted me following after initially speaking to their doctor about their concerns, only to be told: “If you had Addison’s disease, you wouldn’t be in my surgery.” Consultation over.
Adrenal fatigue is not Addison’s. To adequately serve their patients, doctors working within the NHS need to realise that adrenal function can occur in more than just three ‘flavours’. It seems ridiculous that, while acknowledging the daily fluctuations in stress hormones and how they may affect the metabolism, mainstream medicine still acts as if the adrenal output only exists as ‘high’, ‘low’ or ‘normal’.
Although there are several tests that can provide useful information, the first step in assessing your adrenal heath is the Adrenal Stress Index. This test, provided by a number of laboratories across many different countries, provides a snapshot of the adrenal function by analysing the levels of both cortisol and DHEA at four different times of the day. Together with a detailed discussion of your daily experience and symptoms, this can allow a skilled practitioner to get a firm grasp on the function of your adrenal glands and make the appropriate suggestions.
Just don’t wait for your doctor to order this test. The medical system remains ignorant of adrenal function and the way it affects a huge number of patients. Given the unprofitable nature of adrenal fatigue, I do not expect this to change any time soon. While individuals may not necessarily be able to change the situation, knowing what obstacles stand in your way may expedite your recovery from this troublesome condition.