What are night sweats?

Night sweats are a common symptom of menopause and other medical conditions.
Night sweats are a common symptom of menopause and other medical conditions.

Night sweats are episodes of excessive perspiration that happen during sleep. They are often described as soaking or drenching and may require a change of sheets or even clothes. Night sweats can occur during sleep and without physical exertion. They aren’t caused by a heavy blanket or a warm bedroom. Instead, other underlying health issues may be responsible for these episodes of considerable sweating during sleep. Night sweats can reduce sleep quality, concern a bed partner and provoke serious discomfort. 

What is the outcome of patients with night sweats?

Night sweats affect many people. They are sometimes no cause for concern, but they can interrupt sleep and reduce quality of life. In some cases, night sweats are a sign of a health issue that requires attention. Sleeping in a cool room with bedding and pajamas made from light, natural fabrics may help. If not, a doctor can recommend other approaches, which may include medications and therapies.

What are the eight causes of night sweats?

There are many different causes of night sweats. The most common include the following

  • Hypoglycemia: Low blood sugar can cause sweating. People who take insulin or oral diabetes medications may have hypoglycemia at night that is accompanied by sweating.
  • Hormone disorders: Sweating or flushing can be seen with several hormone disorders such as hyperthyroidism (hyperactive thyroid), carcinoid syndrome and adrenal gland tumors.
  • Neurologic conditions: Neurologic conditions including stroke and autonomic neuropathy may cause increased sweating and may lead to night sweats.
  • Infections: Tuberculosis is an infection most commonly associated with night sweats. However, bacterial infections such as endocarditis (inflammation of the heart valves), osteomyelitis (inflammation of the bones) and abscesses can cause night sweats. Night sweats are also a symptom of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection.
  • Menopause: The hot flashes that accompany menopause can occur at night and cause sweating. This is a very common cause of night sweats in women.
  • Cancers: Night sweats are an early symptom of some cancers. The most common type of cancer associated with night sweats is lymphoma. However, people who have an undiagnosed cancer frequently have other symptoms as well, such as unexplained weight loss and fever.
  • Idiopathic hyperhidrosis: Idiopathic hyperhidrosis is a condition in which the body chronically produces too much sweat without any identifiable medical cause.
  • Medications: Certain medications are known to be associated with night sweats. These include some antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), steroids and medicines taken to reduce fever such as aspirin or acetaminophen that may paradoxically cause sweating.
  • Lifestyle: Excessive intake of drugs, alcohol and caffeine can also increase the risk of night sweats. Excess stress or workload may also increase night sweats. 

Other medical conditions such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), heart failure, anxiety and panic attacks have been correlated with night sweats.

How can night sweats be treated?

The treatment for night sweats will vary for any individual patient and should always be overseen by a health professional. Some potential treatment methods include modifications to environment and behavior, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and medications.

  • Lifestyle modifications: Avoiding caffeine, alcohol and spicy foods; drinking sufficient water; maintaining a healthy weight; utilizing relaxation techniques; and wearing breathable clothing before sleeping are few modifications that may relieve night sweats.
  • CBT: This is a type of talk therapy that is commonly used for health problems such as depression, anxiety and insomnia. It is normally conducted in person by a psychiatrist or counselor, but numerous self-directed programs have been developed. Studies have found that CBT for hot flashes and night sweats can reduce their frequency and improve mood and quality of life in menopausal women. CBT is compatible with other approaches, such as behavior modifications, and likely has the greatest effect on night sweats when combined with other approaches.
  • Medications: Sometimes existing medications may cause night sweats.
    • Switching to a different diabetes or thyroid medication may help deal with night sweats. Changing the drug dose and timing may also help manage night sweats.
    • If night sweats are caused by an underlying infection or hormone problem, medication to treat the underlying condition may help relieve symptoms. For example, starting hormone replacement therapy for menopause or taking medicines if tuberculosis is present may help.
    • A doctor may be in the best position to discuss the potential benefits and downsides of any specific medication.

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Medically Reviewed on 8/27/2020
References
Medscape Medical Reference