Although high cortisol has been associated with cardiovascular illness, low cortisol may be a symptom of underlying illness as well. Symptoms of low cortisol have been described by patients with a low thyroid condition and may include a weak or tremulous feeling, the fight or flight response, quick rages, dislike of group situations, all-over nerve pains, caffeine having a relaxing effect and going to the bathroom a lot. An overstressed lifestyle is often blamed as the culprit for a slowing down of the production of adrenal glands responsible for making cortisol.
Sometimes adrenal fatigue is a condition where the adrenal glands produce too little cortisol, but, occasionally, there is no diagnosable cause of the condition. Steroids, which have medically defined uses, such as those used for severe joint pain and those prescribed for breathing problems, may halt the adrenals' production and thereby prevent the production of cortisol. Consult your doctor about the risks of low cortisol if you are taking steroids for medical conditions.
Cortisol may be blocked by the use of steroids because of its chemical similarity to steroids in the body. Medical solutions to this problem include the use of non-steroid alternatives if possible, the shortest treatment possible when steroids are necessary and alternating treatment and non-treatment days. These are all options for maintaining adrenal health during steroid treatment.
Chronic fatigue sufferers have been shown to have of cortisol deficiency in their blood. In an attempt to see if man-made cortisol would improve the functioning of chronic fatigue sufferers, experimental patients were given hydrocortisone, which is the synthetic form of cortisol, and the effects were measured against a placebo group. The fatigue sufferers felt better for a time, but the steroid replacement was shown to cause further adrenal insufficiency in the long run.
A report in the "Journal of Affective Disorders" showed that therapy, which focused on improvement of behaviors to help the outcomes and symptoms of chronic fatigue sufferers, was able to help patients raise their cortisol levels as well.
A 2009 report in the "Journal of Psychoneuroendocrinology" reports that children with Asperger Syndrome, a particular kind of autism, may also have low cortisol levels. When people wake, cortisol levels rise, it is thought, in order to get the body and the brain ready for the day. Asperger Syndrome children do not have this rise in cortisol, so it is believed this biochemical imbalance may be responsible for the abnormal and repetitive behaviors in these children.