Adrenal Fatigue has 4 stages with the last stage being adrenal exhaustion. During the four stages hormones and neurotransmitters will have differing levels. In addition the symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue will changes as the stage increases.
This is the stage in which our body reacts to a stressor, this is a normal response but still comes with some physiological shifts. The stressor could be anything from physical strain, a trauma event or overworking. During this stage of adrenal fatigue the body can mediate the stress by creating a significant number of hormones needed for the response. If a lab test were given during this first stage it could show elevated levels of adrenaline, cortisol, DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), norepinephrine and insulin. At this stage the fatigue is mild and other symptoms are very mild or non existent. This stage will progress if the stressor is not addressed. Recovery at this point take a few weeks to a couple months.
At this point the sufferer has been undergoing severe stress for some time. The cortisol levels will continue to elevate while DHEA levels decrease. A sufferer will be able to continue with day to day life but fatigue will begin to be more apparent often leading to higher caffeine consumption or energy supplements. At this stage the sufferer will still feel fatigued even after a good nights sleep. The stress response systems are bringing to be overloaded and the effects will be moderately affecting the adrenals. Symptoms that may begin at this point are digestive issues, jitteriness, body aches/pains, irritability, nervousness, sense of sickness, depression, irregular sleep patterns, blood pressure elevated, etc. During this stage you may feel overactive mental but consistently fatigued. Recovery at this point will like be a couple months up to 6 months.
At this stage the endocrine system will go into overdrive as it begins to produce stress hormones. A substantial drop in DHEA will occur. The sufferer will often begin to pull back on responsibilities due to the lack of energy, the immune system will not be working optimally leading to more illness and there may be an overall feeling of being unwell. The body will begin to try to preserve energy and muscle tissue will begin to break down for added energy. This stage the sufferer will feel significant symptoms. Recovery at this stage is harder and requires a full elimination of the stressor, adequate sleep and supportive diet. Recovery could be 6 months to a year.
Most never reach this phase of total adrenal gland failure in response to stress. At this point the adrenal glands have little to no function left, and DHEA will often skyrocket. During the final stage of burnout the symptoms become severe included clouded thinking, difficulty formulating sentences, memory loss, irregular heart-beat, inability to function in normal life. Recovery is rare at this stage but if it is achieve it takes long term lifestyle changes and a full avoidance of stress is essential. Recovery at this stage will takes years if ever achieved.