Night sweats

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at December 6, 2015
StartSymptomsNight sweats

Sweating at night is often chalked up to elevated room temperature or having an unpleasant dream. While those are possibilities, there are a number of illnesses and ailments that list night sweats as a symptom to a much larger issue.

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Definition & Facts

Night sweats differ from normal perspiration by soaking through clothing and bed sheets during an episode. It is not always easy to differentiate between night sweats and sweating due to overheating.

A night sweat typically begins due to an extreme hot flash. Unfortunately, if this hot flash happens while a person is asleep, it may not be felt and the night sweat may not be recognized as something to be concerned about. Night sweats can be experienced by men and women at almost any age, and without any warning signs that a night sweat is imminent.

Causes

Many factors can contribute to night sweats as evidenced by the above list. Most commonly, physical conditions are the likeliest culprits that cause night sweats. Infections, HIV, certain cancers, Tuberculosis, blood sugar fluctuations, and other disorders can manifest themselves into night sweats as one of the symptoms. Night sweats will also appear during menopause or other hormonal fluctuations.

Medications can also produce night sweats as a side effect of taking a medication or stopping that medication abruptly. To a lesser degree, anxiety disorders and panic attacks in the night can bring on an episode of night sweats. Rarely are night sweats the only symptom to present itself. The night sweats are often accompanied by other symptoms such as fever, pain, nausea, weight loss, and many other signs that not all is right with the body.

When to see a doctor

A single episode of night sweats is not likely a concern or, technically, a case of night sweats. If night sweats are experienced, especially in conjunction with other symptoms, a consultation with a doctor should be scheduled immediately. Frequent night sweats can disrupt sleep with each occurrence, leading to sleep deprivation and alterations in mood.

A doctor can properly diagnose the root cause of the night sweats with a thorough examination and full disclosure of all the symptoms experienced by the sufferer. Common symptoms that accompany night sweats include fever, chills, fatigue, coughing, changes in appetite, and weight loss. Even symptoms that do not seem related should be discussed with a medical professional for proper analysis. Severe symptoms may also prevent themselves and require emergency care. A severe symptom may include:

Treatment & Therapy

The most important part of treatment for night sweats is the initial diagnosis of the underlying cause of the problem. Once it is determined what has brought on the night sweats, appropriate treatment can be administered. Serious illnesses may require medications to control the disease or ailment.

As the medicine begins to work, night sweats should become less severe, less frequent, and disappear. This is especially true for night sweats caused by hormonal changes. In some cases, the sufferer may learn to deal with the night sweats instead of attempting to medicate the cause. In those cases, it is recommended to sleep in a cool room, changes sheets and bedclothes to a lower thread count that will keep the body cooler, and avoid eating spicy food that encourages sweating.

Cancer and other illnesses that require radiation or chemotherapy for treatment may come with night sweats as a consequence of the treatment. Alleviating night sweats in under these circumstances is often accomplished by taking prescription medication, keeping cool at night, and reducing stress. There are no medications that specifically target night sweats and the management of the problem is the best route until treatment for the root cause can be implemented.

Some cancer patients experiencing night sweats have turned to acupuncture with positive results, but there will likely be a trial and error period until a treatment plan is found that will work toward decreasing or eliminating the night sweats and the underlying cause. In the meantime, loose clothing should be worn to bed, fans can be used to cool the room, or a window can be opened to ward off a potential episode of the night sweats.

Prevention & Prophylaxis

In most cases of illness, night sweats cannot be predicted or prevented. Night sweats will be treated as they occur, but there are some underlying causes where an anticipation of night sweats would be reasonable. Menopause and cancer treatments are commonly associated with the onset of night sweats.

At the beginning of either of these conditions, steps can be taken in an attempt to lessen the severity of night sweats. Sheets with a high thread count can be exchanged for sheets with a thread count of 300 or less to keep the body cooler at night. A fan can be installed in the bedroom to help cool the room at night.

Prepare for bed in loose fitting, lightweight pajamas and blankets that absorb heat should be removed from the bed. Further precautions can include avoiding spicy foods and hot beverages, regulating the water temperature during baths and showers to not overheat the body, practicing relaxation techniques, and reporting any new symptoms or changes in the condition to a physician.