Signs & Symptoms of Adrenal Fatigue & Shortness of Breath

Updated April 17, 2017

Diagnosis of an adrenal insufficiency is achieved through blood tests to measure the amount of hormones in your blood. Adrenal insufficiency comes in two types; primary and secondary. Your doctor will determine whether the cause of your adrenal fatigue is based in the endocrine system or if you have another condition that keeps the adrenal glands from properly functioning.

Food Allergy

Any food allergy can place undue stress on the adrenal gland's daily functioning. "Proper adrenal function plays an important role in mediating the histamine release and inflammatory reactions that produce the symptoms experienced with allergies," said Dr. James Wilson, who founded the Adrenal Fatigue website. Some common food allergies are wheat, eggs, milk and soy.


Cortisol, produced by the adrenal glands, regulates the body's ability to fight off histamines from allergens that cause inflammation. The immune system becomes taxed, and the lungs react to environmental triggers, causing an asthma attack. Shortness of breath from asthma can be aggravated when the adrenal glands are underproducing cortisol.


These are medicines prescribed to treat the symptoms of asthma or arthritis. If you stop taking this medicine, you can develop temporary secondary adrenal insufficiency. The synthetic steroids will affect your body's natural production.

ACTH and CRH Hormones

These hormones are produced in the pituitary and signal the adrenal glands to produce cortisol. Low hormone levels can produce symptoms of unusual tiredness, weakness, unintended weight loss, nausea, diarrhoea, dizziness, loss of appetite, joint pain and belly pain, salt craving and darkening of the skin. Low levels of hormones can lead to more serious conditions, and synthetic hormones may be necessary to counteract stress from illness or other physical stress.

Lung Cancer tumours

Shortness of breath may occur as a sign of lung cancer. Additionally, the tumours can pressure the adrenal glands, creating the symptoms for Cushing's disease, which is exhibited by puffy face, weight gain, hump on the lower neck or elevated blood sugar levels. A CAT scan can determine whether your adrenal function is compromised by a tumour.

Addison's Disease

Symptoms are pain in the abdomen, lower back or legs, severe vomiting and diarrhoea, dehydration, low blood pressure and loss of consciousness. These can occur suddenly and require immediate attention. The two causes are an adrenal insufficiency based on an autoimmune disease (primary), or insufficiency based on another condition such as cancer (secondary). Symptoms of this disease are manageable with medications.


Addison's disease can be caused by tuberculosis, an airborne disease affecting the lungs. An active tuberculosis will cause extreme shortness of breath and coughing, but this disease can be inactive. Inactive tuberculosis can be diagnosed from a skin test.

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About the Author

Amie Comeau first published writing and photography in 1998. Her images appear on Fine Art America, and her writing appears on eHow and Answerbag. Comeau studied art therapy at the University of New Mexico and teaches integrative yoga therapy. She has a Bachelor of Arts in philosophy from Tulane University.