woman stress headache

Fibromyalgia and Adrenal Fatigue

woman stress headacheWe have talked before about what I like to call the stress-coping savings account.  This is the storage of certain hormones that help you deal with stress on a day-to-day basis.  Those with chronic pain syndromes like fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome usually deplete this store pretty quickly, leading to something called adrenal fatigue.

The adrenal glands are the stress-coping glands.  They are responsible for excreting the hormones that help you deal with stress, such as cortisol and epinephrine.  They are small, pea-sized glands located at the top of each kidney and have one of the most vital functions in the body.  When these glands malfunction, especially in those with chronic pain syndromes, it leads to a host of other problems like exacerbated symptoms of fibromyalgia, excessive fatigue, inability to tolerate certain noises or even smells, and make it nearly impossible to deal with mundane activities like balancing the checkbook or cleaning the house.

The hormones released by the adrenal glands regulate blood sugar; digestion; utilization of carbs, fats and proteins for energy; and, most importantly, inflammation.

Additionally, after midlife (around 50’s), these glands are responsible for releasing the sex hormones, which play a part in physical and mental well-being by regulating our mood and increasing libido.

The adrenals are made up of two sections:  The medulla, which is the inner portion, and the cortex, which is the outer portion.  The medulla is responsible for releasing norepinephrine and epinephrine, otherwise known as noradrenaline and adrenaline.  These are the chemicals responsible for the immediate response to stress or a threat, the fight-or-flight response.  Epinephrine speeds up the heart rate, raises the blood pressure, opens the airways, and releases sugar to prepare the body for the stress.  Mental clarity and energy are increased when these two chemicals are released, so pain is then reduced.

Illu_adrenal_glandThe cortex is a bit more “important” because it deals with helping the body respond to chronic, long-term stress, which most of us can relate to, especially those with chronic illnesses.

With chronic, prolonged stress, I’m referring to the illnesses that put stress on the body such as infection or extended physical, mental, or emotional distress.  The cortex is responsible for releasing steroids into the body; most importantly, cortisol.  It is cortisol that is the primary player in adrenal fatigue, which is very likely a problem if you have constant fibro or CFS flares.  In fact, studies have shown that more than 2/3 of patients with fibro or CFS suffer from adrenal fatigue.

In fact, malfunctioning adrenals, or the cortisol-control system, may be the primary cause of your symptoms.

Symptoms of adrenal fatigue are similar to those found in chronic illnesses, especially CFS.  They include dizziness, joint pain, excess fatigue, decreased cognitive ability or mental clarity, compromised immune system, depression, diarrhea, constipation, or abdominal pain.  Additionally, blood sugar control is often a problem in those with adrenal fatigue and will usually feel anxious, run down, and depressed.

But, why is this happening?  Why are your adrenals malfunctioning?  Well it could be that the hypothalamus in the brain, which is responsible for releasing the hormone CRH that tells the adrenals when more cortisol is needed, is not secreting adequate amounts.  The adrenals then cannot respond by giving off more of the steroid.  HPA-axis dysfunction is a primary cause of why hormones and neurotransmitters are not released appropriately, and this is a main concern in people with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.

However, another more common reason your adrenals could be malfunctioning is simply burnout, otherwise known as general adaptation syndrome.

There are three phases that lead to a person developing GAS.  The first phase is the fight-or-flight response, which is the immediate reaction to stress.  The pituitary gland releases the hormone, ACTH, which tells the adrenal glands to release immediate coping hormones that will make the body react and prepare. These hormones put the body on alert and clear the mind for decision-making and activity.

Sad and upset woman deep in thoughtThe second phase leading to GAS is called the resistance reaction.  The fight-or-flight response is a short-lived reaction, but this phase can last a long time.  Cortisol is the main hormone that works in this phase, which is released continuously by the adrenal glands.  Cortisol is not usually continuously released, but used only when the body is under stress.  This constant release allows you to endure ongoing stress like infection, pain, fatigue, or even grief.

The resistance phase if prolonged can lead to health problems, including the third phase of GAS, which is adrenal exhaustion.  This is the end result of adrenal fatigue.  The adrenals and their constant release of the hormones have become overworked and simply give out.

Once adrenal exhaustion hits, the body has a hard time recovering, so it is not long before your body and mind begin to break down.  It is defenseless against the constant challenges of daily life stress because they simply cannot help you cope anymore.  This is where chronic illness begins.

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9 replies
  1. Becky Brown
    Becky Brown says:

    This was a wonderful article. Also it was so true to each person who has fibromyalgia. I would give anything to be able to live again. This article did give me some hope.Thank You,

  2. Denise
    Denise says:

    I’ve been suffering with fibromyalgia for practically my whole life, wasn’t officially diagnosed until 2000. I’m 57 yrs old now. I’ve been on several different antidepressants, ( all acted like speed for me) allergic to anti-imflammatory meds, taking Tramadol currently, was taking 250 mgs a day, was also prescribed 150 mgs Effexor, felt like I was speeding out of my mind) stopped the Effexor slowly, trying to completelely wein off of Tramadol…but at night my legs and arms have RLS & I can’t take it w/o Tramadol 50mgs. & Xanax low dose. I don’t sleep at all…maybe 4 hrs but not til 4am, have tried muscle relaxants , Requip & Gabapentin.i need something for pain & RLS. I’m only taking Tramadol at night 50mg. & Xanax. 0.5mg now, plus 5000IU of Vitamin D3 & 800 mg of magnesium citrate a day…400mg.at bedtime. I’ve been having itchy broken out scalp the last year plus. I say it started with the Effexor & Tramadol mixture. A little better, but won’t go way. Drives me absolutely nuts! Dr says it’s just stress. What I was wondering if since I’m so allergic to everything…. Is you Jump Start supplement package something mailed and charged to you me every month. Or is it something I can order monthly if it works and I have no problems taking it? Please help!

  3. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    I have been diagnosed with Fibro, and adrenal fatigue. I am very sensitive to most medications so I do not take anything except some Ibuprofen for the pain, and Ativan 0.5mg bid for anxiety,losartan and atenolol for bp. How do I get the Jump Sratr packet?


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