Night Sweats

Extreme nighttime sweating, NOT due to an overheated room, too many blankets or hyper-insulating pajamas, is fairly common. In one study of 2,267 people visiting primary care physicians, 41% said they experience night sweats.

Sometimes doctors call excess nighttime sweating “night sweats” or severe nighttime “hot flashes.” These episodes are described as drenching sleepwear and sheets and disrupting sleep. While not a type of primary focal hyperhidrosis, night sweats are something the experts at the International Hyperhidrosis Society often receive questions about. To help us get to the bottom of night sweats, we talked to International Hyperhidrosis Society Board of Directors President and founding member, Dr. Dee Anna Glaser. Dr. Glaser is also Professor of Dermatology and Vice Chairman for the Department of Dermatology at Saint Louis University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri. (She is also registered in our hyperhidrosis Physician Finder if you'd like to set an appointment with her.)

"This is an important category," says Dr. Glaser. "Experiencing night sweats could be significant. Don't disregard it. Drenching night sweats or a change in your pattern of sweating has to be evaluated." Many different medical conditions can cause night sweats, she adds. To figure out what’s going on with you, visit your doctor for a complete physical. Your doctor will need to obtain a detailed medical history (including travel history) and order tests to figure out whether there is an underlying medical problem at work.

Medical conditions that may cause night sweats include:

  • Menopause and perimenopause. Symptoms of menopause may begin years before the actual cessation of a woman’s menstrual cycle. Other hormonal changes in women (such as those that occur in adolescence and pregnancy) can also cause night sweats.
  • Infections. Such as tuberculosis; endocarditis (inflammation of the heart valves); osteomyelitis (infection within the bones); abscesses (such as in boils, the appendix, tonsils, and diverticulitis); and HIV infection.
  • Cancer. Night sweats can be an early symptom of some cancers especially lymphoma. With cancer, however, night sweats are not usually the only symptom. Other associated symptoms frequently include fever and unexplained weight loss.
  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).
  • Hormone disorders including pheochromocytoma, carcinoid syndrome, and hyperthyroidism.
  • Neurologic conditions. Although neurologic causes of night sweats are not common, they may include stroke, autonomic dysreflexia, and autonomic neuropathy.

Medications are also a common cause of night sweats. Frequent culprits are antidepressants, other psychiatric medicines, hormone therapy, and medications taken to decrease the level of sugar (glucose) in your blood. Even medicine taken to lower fever (aspirin, acetaminophen) can lead to sweating. So can cortisone, prednisone, and prednisolone.

We should mention here that flushing is different from night sweats. Flushing is redness of the skin, typically of the neck and cheeks that is sometimes confused with night sweats. There are a number of drugs that can cause flushing including: niacin, tamoxifen, hydralazine, nitroglycerine, and sildenafil (Viagra).

If you suffer from night sweats. It’s important to talk to your doctor about it, especially if the night sweats are accompanied by a fever or other symptoms such as unexplained weight loss. "Most night sweating is not idiopathic [from an unknown cause]," says Dr. Glaser. "There is usually an underlying medical condition that needs to be addressed." Tell your doctor about any medications you take, including over-the-counter and herbal or “natural” supplements or vitamins.

While you and your physician figure out if there is an underlying medical cause for your nighttime sweating (a critical step!), there are things you can do to make bedtime more comfortable.

Keep your bedroom at a moderate temperature. Use fans for air circulation.

Wear moisture-wicking/quick-drying pajamas like Cool-jams. Long underwear used for camping or comfortable exercise garments made of moisture-wicking fabrics may be good choices. Avoid non-breathable synthetics. Check out our Deals and Discounts page to get your coupon for 10% off, plus free shipping for orders over $100!

Consider quick-drying bedding instead of your usual cotton sheets. Wicked Sheets, for example, are made of the same material that athletes wear to wick moisture away from their bodies as they exercise. Wicked Sheets are made specifically for night sweats and were created by a woman who has this exact problem. Learn more at www.wickedsheets.com. SweatHelp.org readers can save 10% on their Wicked Sheets order using the coupon code SweatHelp10.

Remember, if you suffer from night sweats, see your doctor without delay. This is a common problem with a lot of potential causes and some are serious. Talk to your doctor and get the appropriate treatment.

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