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This article is based on reporting that features expert sources. Adrenal Fatigue: Is It Real? More You may have heard of so-called 'adrenal fatigue,' supposedly caused by ongoing emotional stress. Or you might have come across adrenal support supplements sold online to treat it. But if someone suggests you have the controversial, unproven condition, seek a second opinion, experts say. And if someone tries to sell you dietary supplements or other treatments for adrenal fatigue, be safe and save your money. (GETTY IMAGES) Physicians tend to talk about 'reaching' or 'making' a medical diagnosis. However, when it comes to adrenal fatigue, endocrinologists – doctors who specialize in diseases involving hormone-secreting glands like the adrenals – sometimes use language such as 'perpetrating a diagnosis,' 'misdiagnosis,' 'made-up diagnosis,' 'a fallacy' and 'nonsense.' About 20 years ago, the term "adrenal fatigue" was coined by Dr. James Wilson, a chiropractor. Since then, certain practitioners and marketers have promoted the notion that chronic stress somehow slows or shuts down the adrenal glands, causing excessive fatigue. "The phenomenon emerged from the world of integrative medicine and naturopathic medicine," says Dr. James Findling, a professor of medicine and director of the Community Endocrinology Center and Clinics at the Medical College of Wisconsin. "It has no scientific basis, and there's no merit to it as a clinical diagnosis." An online search of medical billing code sets in the latest version of the International Classification of Diseases, or the ICD-10, does not yield a diagnostic code for 'adrenal fatigue' among the 331 diagnoses related either to fatigue or adrenal conditions or procedures. In a March 2020 position statement, the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and American College of Endocrinology addressed the use of adrenal supplements "to treat common nonspecific symptoms due to 'adrenal fatigue,' an entity that has not been recognized as a legitimate diagnosis." The position statement warned of known and unknown health risks of off-label use and misuse of hormones and supplements in patients without an established endocrine diagnosis, as well as unnecessary costs to patients and the overall health care system. Study after study has refuted the legitimacy of adrenal fatigue as a medical diagnosis. An August 2016 systematic review combined and analyzed data from 58 studies on adrenal fatigue including more than 10,000 participants. The conclusion in a nutshell: "Adrenal fatigue does not exist," according to review authors in the journal BMC Endocrine Disorders. Adrenal Action You have two adrenal glands in your body. These small triangular glands, one on top of each kidney, produce essential hormones such as aldosterone, cortisol and male sex hormones such as DHEA and testosterone. Cortisol helps regulate metabolism: How your body uses fat, protein and carbohydrates from food, and cortisol increases blood sugar as needed. It also plays a role in controlling blood pressure, preventing inflammation and regulating your sleep/wake cycle. As your body responds to stress, cortisol increases. This response starts with signals between two sections in the brain: The hypothalamus and the pituitary gland, which act together to release a hormone that stimulates the adrenal glands to make cortisol. This interactive unit is called the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis. While some health conditions really do affect the body's cortisol-making ability, adrenal fatigue isn't among them. "There's no evidence to support that adrenal fatigue is an actual medical condition," says Dr. Mary Vouyiouklis Kellis, a staff endocrinologist at Cleveland Clinic. "There's no stress connection in the sense that someone's adrenal glands will all of a sudden just stop producing cortisol because they're so inundated with emotional stress." If anything, adrenal glands are workhorses that rise to the occasion when chronic stress occurs. "The last thing in the body that's going to fatigue are your adrenal glands," says Dr. William F. Young Jr., an endocrinology clinical professor and professor of medicine in the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. "Adrenal glands are built for stress – that's what they do. Adrenal glands don't fatigue. This is made up – it's a fallacy." The idea of adrenal glands crumbling under stress is "ridiculous," Findling agrees. "In reality, if you take a person and subject them to chronic stress, the adrenal glands don't shut down at all," Findling says. "They keep making cortisol – it's a stress hormone. In fact, the adrenal glands are just like the Energizer Bunny – they just keep going. They don't stop." Home cortisol tests that allow consumers to check their own levels can be misleading, Findling says. "Some providers who make this (adrenal fatigue) diagnosis, provide patients with testing equipment for doing saliva cortisol levels throughout the day," he says. "And then, regardless of what the results are, they perpetrate this diagnosis of adrenal fatigue." Saliva cortisol is a legitimate test that's frequently used in diagnosing Cushing's syndrome, or overactive adrenal glands, Findling notes. However, he says, a practitioner pursuing an adrenal fatigue diagnosis could game the system. "What they do is: They shape a very narrow normal range, so narrow, in fact, that no normal human subject could have all their saliva cortisol (levels) within that range throughout the course of the day," he says. "Then they convince the poor patients that they have adrenal fatigue phenomena and put them on some kind of adrenal support." Loaded Supplements How do you know what you're actually getting if you buy a dietary supplement marketed for adrenal fatigue or 'adrenal support' use? To find out, researchers purchased 12 such supplements over the counter in the U.S. Laboratory tests revealed that all supplements contained a small amount of thyroid hormone and most contained at least one steroid hormone, according to the study published in the March 2018 issue of Mayo Clinic Proceedings. "These results may highlight potential risks for hidden ingredients in unregulated supplements," the authors concluded. Supplements containing thyroid hormones or steroids can interact with a patient's prescribed medications or have other side effects. "Some people just assume they have adrenal fatigue because they looked it up online when they felt tired and they ultimately buy these over-the-counter supplements that can be very dangerous at times," Vouyiouklis Kellis says. "Some of them contain animal (ingredients), like bovine adrenal extract. That can suppress the pituitary axis. So, as a result, your body stops making its own cortisol or starts making less of it, and as a result, you can actually worsen the condition rather than make it better." Any form of steroid from outside the body, whether a prescription drug like prednisone or extract from cows' adrenal glands, "can shut off the pituitary," Vouyiouklis Kellis explains. "Because it's signaling to the pituitary like: Hey, you don't need to stimulate the adrenals to make cortisol, because this patient is taking it already. So, as a result, the body ultimately doesn't produce as much. And, so, if you rapidly withdraw that steroid or just all of a sudden decide not to take it anymore, then you can have this acute response of low cortisol." Some adrenal support products, such as herbal-only supplements, may be harmless. However, they're unlikely to relieve chronic fatigue. Fatigue: No Easy Answers If you're suffering from ongoing fatigue, it's frustrating. And you're not alone. "I have fatigue," Young Jr. says. "Go to the lobby any given day and say, 'Raise your hand if you have fatigue.' Most of the people are going to raise their hands. It's a common human symptom and people would like an easy answer for it. Usually there's not an easy answer. I think 'adrenal fatigue' is attractive because it's like: Aha, here's the answer." There aren't that many causes of endocrine-related fatigue, Young Jr. notes. "Hypothyroidism – when the thyroid gland is not working – is one." Addison's disease, or adrenal insufficiency, can also lead to fatigue among a variety of other symptoms. Established adrenal conditions – like adrenal insufficiency – need to be treated. "In adrenal insufficiency, there is an intrinsic problem in the adrenal gland's inability to produce cortisol," Vouyiouklis Kellis explains. "That can either be a primary problem in the adrenal gland or an issue with the pituitary gland not being able to stimulate the adrenal to make cortisol." Issues can arise even with necessary medications. "For example, very commonly, people are put on steroids for various reasons: allergies, ear, nose and throat problems," Vouyiouklis Kellis says. "And with the withdrawal of the steroids, they can ultimately have adrenal insufficiency, or decrease in cortisol." Opioid medications for pain also result in adrenal sufficiency, Vouyiouklis Kellis says, adding that this particular side effect is rarely discussed. People with a history of autoimmune disease can also be at higher risk for adrenal insufficiency. Common symptoms of adrenal insufficiency include: Fatigue. Weight loss. Decreased appetite. Salt cravings. Low blood pressure. Abdominal pain. Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Muscle weakness. Hyperpigmentation (darkening of the skin). Irritability. Medical tests for adrenal insufficiency start with blood cortisol levels, and tests for the ACTH hormone that stimulates the pituitary gland. "If the person does not have adrenal insufficiency and they're still fatigued, it's important to get to the bottom of it," Vouyiouklis Kellis says. Untreated sleep apnea often turns out to be the actual cause, she notes. "It's very important to tease out what's going on," Vouyiouklis Kellis emphasizes. "It can be multifactorial – multiple things contributing to the patient's feeling of fatigue." The blood condition anemia – a lack of healthy red blood cells – is another potential cause. "If you are fatigued, do not treat yourself," Vouyiouklis Kellis says. "Please seek a physician or a primary care provider for evaluation, because you don't want to go misdiagnosed or undiagnosed. It's very important to rule out actual causes that would be contributing to symptoms rather than ordering supplements online or seeking an alternative route like self-treating rather than being evaluated first." SOURCES The U.S. News Health team delivers accurate information about health, nutrition and fitness, as well as in-depth medical condition guides. All of our stories rely on multiple, independent sources and experts in the field, such as medical doctors and licensed nutritionists. To learn more about how we keep our content accurate and trustworthy, read our editorial guidelines. James Findling, MD Findling is a professor of medicine and director of the Community Endocrinology Center and Clinics at the Medical College of Wisconsin. Mary Vouyiouklis Kellis, MD Vouyiouklis Kellis is a staff endocrinologist at Cleveland Clinic. William F. Young Jr., MD Young Jr. is an endocrinology clinical professor and professor of medicine in the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine at Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota From https://health.usnews.com/health-care/patient-advice/articles/adrenal-fatigue-is-it-real?
Dr. Irmanie Hemphill, who first thought her weight gain was due to having a baby. Doctors at Cleveland Clinic Florida in Weston diagnosed her with a tumor in the pituitary gland in her brain. In the summer of 2019, Irmanie Hemphill gained a lot of weight, developed acne and had high blood pressure. She attributed it to her body adjusting from giving birth just six weeks prior. “I was thinking maybe it was just hormonal changes from having a baby,” said Hemphill, 38, of Pembroke Pines. But when Hemphill, a family medicine physician, saw that her nails were turning dark and she gained five pounds within a week, she knew it was something more serious. Blood tests ordered by her physician came back normal, with the exception of high levels of cortisol detected via a urine cortisol test, which she requested after researching her symptoms online. The next step was to find out where the excess cortisol was coming from: either her kidneys or her adrenal glands, which produce hormones in response to signals from the pituitary gland in the brain. The first MRI of her brain did not detect anything abnormal, so her endocrinologist attributed her symptoms to her body adjusting post-pregnancy. Hemphill sought a second opinion at Cleveland Clinic Weston, where more MRIs of her brain, combined with an Inferior Petrosal Sinus Sampling (IPSS) procedure, detected she had a tumor on her pituitary gland. That led her to be diagnosed with Cushing’s Disease — caused by excess cortisol. TWO TYPES OF PITUITARY TUMORS There are two types of pituitary tumors: those that produce active hormones, like the one Hemphill had, and those that do not, which grow in size over time and do not manifest symptoms right away. Hemphill’s tumor was producing adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which causes the adrenal gland to produce more cortisol. Many people with Cushing’s Disease experience high blood pressure and high blood sugar, muscle fatigue, easy bruising and brain fog. If left untreated, the condition can lead to pulmonary embolisms, diabetes, osteoporosis, strokes and heart attacks. “It was a little bit of relief but also sadness,” said Hemphill, of finding out her diagnosis. “I was very happy that I got a diagnosis but now it’s like, what’s the next step?” LESS INVASIVE WAY TO REMOVE A PITUITARY TUMOR Hospitals in South Florida are at the forefront in developing new research, techniques and technologies for pituitary tumors. The tiny bean-shaped pituitary gland is located at the base of the brain and controls many of the body’s hormonal and metabolic functions. Last June, neurosurgeon Dr. Hamid Borghei-Razavi of Cleveland Clinic Weston removed Hemphill’s pituitary tumor through her nose. This type of procedure allows surgeons to remove the tumor without damaging the brain. “It’s a less-invasive approach compared to 20 years ago, when pituitary tumors were removed through the cranium,” he said. “Now, with new technologies, more than 95% of pituitary tumors can be removed through the nose.” The procedure takes just a few hours to complete, based on the size and location of the tumor. Patients usually stay at the hospital for one to two days afterward for observation. The removal of Hemphill’s tumor, which was three to four millimeters in size, put an end to her Cushing’s Disease and her symptoms, though it took six months to a year for Hemphill to feel normal. (She was prescribed cortisol for six months until her adrenal glands could restart producing cortisol on their own.) “Sometimes it’s very hard to make a diagnosis for pituitary tumors because we don’t see them in the MRIs,” said Borghei-Razavi. “We call it MRI Negative Cushing’s Syndrome. It means we don’t see it in the MRI, but the cells are there,” he said. Borghei-Razavi and Hemphill credit the Inferior Petrosal Sinus Sampling (IPSS) test as pinpointing her tumor. Cleveland Clinic Weston is among only a handful of medical practices in South Florida that use this technique. Three Ways to Remove the Tumor Most pituitary tumors are benign. The challenge is when it comes to removing the tumor. “Pituitary tumors come in all shapes and sizes,” says Dr. Zoukaa Sargi, a head and neck surgeon at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami. “There are non-functional tumors that do not secrete hormones that can reach extreme sizes of up to 10 centimeters before coming to medical attention. This is the equivalent of the size of a grapefruit,” he says. “Then there are functional tumors that produce hormones that are typically discovered much sooner and can be only a few millimeters in size before coming to medical attention. A small proportion, less than 1%, are malignant,” he adds. There are three treatment options for pituitary tumors: surgical removal, medical therapy and radiation. “Medical therapy is only applicable in certain functional tumors that produce hormones,” says Dr. Ricardo Komotar, a neurosurgeon who is director of the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center Brain Tumor Initiative. “Radiation is an option primarily for inoperable tumors with high surgical risk. Surgical removal is the optimal treatment in the vast majority of pituitary cases, conferring the greatest benefit with the lowest morbidity,” he says. Dr. Rupesh Kotecha, chief of radiosurgery at Miami Cancer Institute (MCI), part of Baptist Health South Florida, says there are a number of different hormones that the pituitary gland can secrete. “Prolactin is the most common form of pituitary adenoma that’s functioning and accounts for 30% to 50%,” he said. Excess prolactin can cause the production of breast milk in men and in women who are not pregnant or breastfeeding. Kotecha said the next most common are growth-hormone secreting tumors, which occur in 10% of patients. ACTH-secreting adenomas — the kind that Hemphill had — account for 5% of patients, while 1% secrete TSH, which causes the thyroid gland to be overactive. MCI’s Proton Therapy delivers high-dose radiation that treats the tumor’s area, allowing for surrounding tissues and organs to be spared from the effects of radiation. “The pituitary gland essentially sits in the middle of the brain,” says Kotecha. “It’s sitting in the middle of all of these critical structures.” From https://www.miamiherald.com/living/health-fitness/article251653033.html
By: SHERRY BOSCHERT, Family Practice News Digital Network SAN FRANCISCO – The size of a pituitary tumor on magnetic resonance imaging in a patient with ACTH-dependent Cushing’s syndrome can’t differentiate between etiologies, but combining that information with biochemical test results could help avoid costly and difficult inferior petrosal sinus sampling in some patients, a study of 131 cases suggests. If MRI shows a pituitary tumor larger than 6 mm in size, the finding is 40% sensitive and 96% specific for a diagnosis of Cushing’s disease as the cause of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)-dependent Cushing’s syndrome, and additional information from biochemical testing may help further differentiate this from ectopic ACTH secretion, Dr. Divya Yogi-Morren and her associates reported at the Endocrine Society’s Annual Meeting. Pituitary tumors were seen on MRI in 6 of 26 patients with ectopic ACTH secretion (23%) and 73 of 105 patients with Cushing’s disease (69%), with mean measurements of 4.5 mm in the ectopic ACTH secretion group and 8 mm in the Cushing’s disease group. All but one tumor in the ectopic ACTH secretion group were 6 mm or smaller in diameter, but one was 14 mm. Because pituitary "incidentalomas" as large as 14 mm can be seen in patients with ectopic ACTH secretion, the presence of a pituitary tumor can’t definitively discriminate between ectopic ACTH secretion and Cushing’s disease, said Dr. Yogi-Morren, a fellow at the Cleveland Clinic. That finding contradicts part of a 2003 consensus statement that said the presence of a focal pituitary lesion larger than 6 mm on MRI could provide a definitive diagnosis of Cushing’s disease, with no further evaluation needed in patients who have a classic clinical presentation and dynamic biochemical testing results that are compatible with a pituitary etiology (J. Clin. Endocrinol. Metab. 2003;88:5593-602). The 6-mm cutoff, said Dr. Yogi-Morren, came from an earlier study reporting that 10% of 100 normal, healthy adults had focal pituitary abnormalities on MRI ranging from 3 to 6 mm in diameter that were consistent with a diagnosis of asymptomatic pituitary adenomas (Ann. Intern. Med. 1994;120:817-20). A traditional workup of a patient with ACTH-dependent Cushing’s syndrome might include a clinical history, biochemical testing, neuroimaging, and an inferior petrosal sinus sampling (IPSS). Biochemical testing typically includes tests for hypokalemia, measurement of cortisol and ACTH levels, a high-dose dexamethasone suppression test, and a corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH) stimulation test. Although IPSS is the gold standard for differentiating between the two etiologies, it is expensive and technically difficult, especially in institutions that don’t regularly do the procedure, so it would be desirable to avoid IPSS if it’s not needed in a subset of patients, Dr. Yogi-Morren said. The investigators reviewed charts from two centers (the Cleveland Clinic and the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston) for patients with ACTH-dependent Cushing’s syndrome seen during 2000-2012. ACTH levels were significantly different between groups, averaging 162 pg/mL (range, 58-671 pg/mL) in patients with ectopic ACTH secretion, compared with a mean 71 pg/mL in patients with Cushing’s disease (range, 16-209 pg/mL), she reported. Although there was some overlap between groups in the range of ACTH levels, all patients with an ACTH level higher than 210 pg/mL had ectopic ACTH secretion. Median serum potassium levels at baseline were 2.9 mmol/L in the ectopic ACTH secretion group and 3.8 mmol/L in the Cushing’s disease group, a significant difference. Again, there was some overlap between groups in the range of potassium levels, but all patients with a baseline potassium level lower than 2.7 mmol/L had ectopic ACTH secretion, she said. Among patients who underwent a high-dose dexamethasone suppression test, cortisol levels decreased by less than 50% in 88% of patients with ectopic ACTH secretion and in 26% of patients with Cushing’s disease. Most patients did not undergo a standardized, formal CRH stimulation test, so investigators extracted the ACTH response to CRH in peripheral plasma during the IPSS test. As expected, they found a significantly higher percent increase in ACTH in response to CRH during IPSS in the Cushing’s disease group, ranging up to more than a 1,000% increase. In the ectopic ACTH secretion group, 40% of patients did have an ACTH increase greater than 50%, ranging as high as a 200%-300% increase in ACTH in a couple of patients. "Although there was some overlap in the biochemical testing, it is possible that it provides some additional proof to differentiate between ectopic ACTH secretion and Cushing’s disease," Dr. Yogi-Morren said. In the ectopic ACTH secretion group, the source of the secretion remained occult in seven patients. The most common identifiable cause was a bronchial carcinoid tumor, in six patients. Three patients each had small cell lung cancer, a thymic carcinoid tumor, or a pancreatic neuroendocrine tumor. One patient each had a bladder neuroendocrine tumor, ovarian endometrioid cancer, medullary thyroid cancer, or a metastatic neuroendocrine tumor from an unknown primary cancer. The ectopic ACTH secretion group had a median age of 41 years and was 63% female. The Cushing’s disease group had a median age of 46 years and was 76% female. Dr. Yogi-Morren reported having no financial disclosures. firstname.lastname@example.org On Twitter @sherryboschert From Famiiy Practice News
October 1, 2012 at 6:30 PM eastern, Dr. Amir Hamrahian will answer our questions about Cushing's, pituitary or adrenal issues and Korlym (mifepristone) in BlogTalkRadio at http://www.blogtalkr...s-our-questions You may listen live at the link above. The episode will be added to the Cushing's Help podcast after the show is over. Listen to the podcasts by searching for Cushings in the iTunes podcast area or click here: http://itunes.apple....ats/id350591438 Dr. Hamrahian has had patients on Korlym for about 4 years. Please submit your questions below or email them to CushingsHelp@gmail.com before Sunday, September 30. From Dr. Hamrahian's bio at http://my.clevelandc...x?doctorid=3676 Amir Hamrahian, M.D. (216) 444-6568 http://my.clevelandc...5&DoctorID=3676 Appointed: 2000 Request an Appointment Research & Publications † ( † Disclaimer: This search is powered by PubMed, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine. PubMed is a third-party website with no affiliation with Cleveland Clinic.) Biographical Sketch Amir H. Hamrahian, MD, is a Staff member in the Department of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism at Cleveland Clinic's main campus, having accepted that appointment in 2005. Prior to that appointment, he was also a clinical associate there for nearly five years. His clinical interests include pituitary and adrenal disorders. Dr. Hamrahian received his medical degree from Hacettepe University in Ankara, Turkey, and upon graduation was a general practitioner in the provinces of Hamadan and Tehran, Iran. He completed an internal medicine residency at the University of North Dakota, Fargo, and an endocrinology fellowship at Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals, Cleveland. In 2003, he received the Teacher of the Year award from Cleveland Clinic's Department of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism. Dr. Hamrahian speaks three languages -- English, Turkish and Farsi -- and is board-certified in internal medicine as well as endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism. He is a member of the Endocrine Society, Pituitary Society and the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. Education & Fellowships Fellowship - University Hospitals of Cleveland Endocrinology Cleveland, OH USA 2000 Residency - University of North Dakota Hospital Internal Medicine Fargo, ND USA 1997 Medical School - Hacettepe University School of Medicine Ankara Turkey 1991 Certifications Internal Medicine Internal Medicine- Endocrinology, Diabetes & Metabolism Specialty Interests Cushing syndrome, acromegaly, pheochromocytoma, prolactinoma, primary aldosteronism, pituitary disorders, adrenal tumor, adrenocortical carcinoma, MEN syndromes, adrenal disorders Awards & Honors Best Doctors in America, 2007-2008 Memberships Pituitary Society Endocrine Society American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists American Medical Association Treatment & Services Radioactive Iodine Treatment Thyroid Aspiration Thyroid Ultrasound Specialty in Diseases and Conditions Acromegaly Addison’s Disease Adrenal disorders Adrenal insufficiency Adrenal Insufficiency and Addison’s Disease Adrenal Tumors Adrenocortical Carcinoma Adrenoleukodystrophy (ALD) Amenorrhea Androgen Deficiency (Low Testosterone) Androgen Excess Calcium Disorders Carcinoid Syndrome Conn's Syndrome Cushing's Syndrome Empty sella Erectile Dysfunction Familial Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia Fasting hypoglycemia Flushing Syndromes Galactorrhea Goiter Growth hormone deficiency Growth hormone excess Gynecomastia Hirsutism Hyperaldosteronism Hyperandrogenism Hyperprolactinemia Hypertension - High Blood Pressure Hyperthyroidism Hypocalcemia Hypoglycemia Hypogonadism Hypoparathyroidism Hypophysitis Hypopituitarism Hypothyroidism Mastocytosis Menopause, Male Menstrual Disorders Paget's Disease Panhypopituitarism Parathyroid Cancer Parathyroid Disease and Calcium Disorders Pheochromocytoma Pituitary Cysts Pituitary Disorders Pituitary stalk lesions Pituitary Tumors Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) Primary Hyperaldosteronism Primary Hyperparathyroidism Prolactin Excess States Prolactinoma Thyroid and pregnancy Thyroid Cancer Thyroid Disease Thyroid Nodule