4 Stages of Adrenal Fatigue

Adrenal Fatigue is unique in that most who suffer from it often fully recover (after making some important life changes). This is a very good thing because if you hit stage 4, you’re going to be in for a world of hurt. Lethargy, lack of sex drive, unable to concentrate are just a few of the symptoms of the 4th stage of this condition.

The only real way to determine what stage you’re currently at is to get a series of lab tests. This can be harder than it seems, due to the fact that some doctors don’t recognize Adrenal Fatigue as a condition. If you think back to our “Is Adrenal Fatigue Real” (insert link back to that article there) section, you will recall that there isn’t even a medical billing code for the condition. Currently, doctors only recognize the final stage of Adrenal Fatigue: Complete exhaustion and the inability of the adrenal glands to produce the required hormones your body needs to deal with stress.

There are 4 distinct stages of Adrenal Fatigue, each with its own symptoms and levels of stress hormones.

Stage 1 – Alarm Phase

This is where it all begins. When our body encounters a stressful situation in life, it sends signals to the adrenal glands to start producing the anti-stress hormone called Cortisol.  At this stage, this is a routine reaction from the body and more than enough hormones are produced to get your body through the stressful situation.

If blood tests were to be performed you would find elevated cortisol, DHES and insulin levels. Your blood sugar levels would also increase.

At this stage, the fatigue you experience is quite mild and can strike mid-day or afternoon. It feels like nothing more than you haven’t had a good night’s sleep in a while. If this happens occasionally, it’s no big deal. Your body is designed to deal with low levels of stress.

But what happens when the stress occurs over a longer period of time? You may start to feel exhausted after lunch, so much so that you start drinking more and more caffeine or a sugary snack. As your insulin levels climb, your pancreas starts working triple overtime in an attempt to compensate. The blood sugar levels are very high at this point in time and by the time evening rolls around, your body can do nothing more than crash out.

Stage 2 – Resistance

As the stress continues, our adrenal glands realize they are working overtime and call on neurotransmitters and other hormones to help balance the load. This is where the body will start to shift to cortisol production. At this stage, AF can still be treated, but if it isn’t then it can lead to issues and hormonal imbalances that could last for a very long time.

At this stage blood tests will show that you have even higher levels of cortisol in your body, almost near depleted levels of DHEA as well as sex hormones. At this point you feel like a walking zombie.

Even if you did get a good night’s sleep, if you’re currently in stage 2 you could feel:

  • Irritability
  • Insomnia (yawning constantly throughout the day)
  • Feeling sub-par
  • Anxious

Stage 3 –Exhaustion

At this point in the game, your adrenals are about to shut down. They are at the point where they can no longer keep up with the stress in your life. Adrenal glands weren’t designed to run 24/7 like the motor of a car. They were only designed to help your body cope with short periods of stress.

Your body now turns to conserving energy wherever it can. Muscle tissue gets broken down and protein gets wasted. The symptoms felt in this stage are much more severe than Stage 2:

  • Your body has zero tolerance for exercise or physical activity
  • “Brain fog”
  • Insomnia to the point where you can’t fall asleep
  • Severe depression
  • Sensitivities to certain foods or drinks.

As stage 3 goes along, the dysfunction of your immunological and neurological and metabolic systems become chronic. For women, your body can shut down to the point where it may experience amenorrhea (the loss of a period) despite you being well under menopausal age. This is your body telling you that its not healthy enough to have children so it winds up shutting those systems down.

Your libido is suppressed and your digestion will slow at this stage. Your body is preparing to shut down. You will require multiple naps throughout the day and you will not be able to work or play. Fortunately very few people reach this stage of AF.

Stage 4 – Failure of Adrenal Glands

In stage 4, death is imminent if you don’t seek prompt medical attention.  Your body has gone beyond the point of being able to take care of itself. Medical intervention is necessary at this point in time. You may experience:

  • Sharp body pains
  • Severe vomiting
  • Dehydration
  • Loss on Consciousness
  • Low blood pressure

The chances of you reaching stage 4 are pretty slim, as you have already taken an interest in this condition by reading up on it. In order to prevent your health from declining any further, take a look at our how to reverse Adrenal Fatigue section (link to that section).

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