Have you ever experienced perspiring at night that you end up waking up with soaked bedding and nightclothes? This condition is called night sweats. Night sweats are repeated episodes of extreme perspiration that may cause occasional waking up and feeling uncomfortable.
People who have night sweats will usually wake up in the middle of the night to find their clothes or beddings drenched even if the room temperature is cool. The condition becomes severe when the person is sleeping with thick blankets or clothing. This is abnormal, but the good thing is, it’s harmless.
An underlying medical condition does not usually cause night sweats. But in rare cases,
it can be caused by an illness. If you’re too worried about the condition, you can ask for a doctor’s opinion to run some tests.
The most important thing now is, to understand the possible causes of night sweats and how to manage the condition effectively. This condition is called nocturnal hyperhidrosis, meaning excessive night-time sweating.
Doctors often hear the patients complain of sweating profusely at night. This is because the condition is fairly common. Night sweats that arise from medical causes usually happen even if the room temperature is cool. In most cases, night sweats happen due to the environmental temperature.
Night sweats are common, affecting about 3 percent of the population. Although the majority of the cases are non-life threatening, the patient should always consult a doctor to determine the underlying cause of the condition.
Sweating, however, is the body’s natural cooling system. Overheating can be deadly and as a result, the body finds a way to reduce the heat inside the body. The part of the brain responsible for the regulation of the body temperature is the hypothalamus. There are more than two million sweat glands in the body to keep it cool. When the sweat evaporates from the skin, the process leads to the release of heat energy, which will then cool the body.
Individuals who are suffering from night sweats wake up in soaked or damped clothes and beddings. They also feel slightly cold or too hot. They usually wake up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat. They perspire extensively while sleeping, even if the room temperature is normal or cool.
Excessive sweating that happens at night may drench the sheets. Some people may also feel the sensation of flushing, which is feeling warm and there is redness of the face. Depending on the underlying condition, some people may also experience fever and chills with night sweats.
Profuse sweating or night sweats have many causes varying from medical conditions to the side effects of certain medications.
Warm days and exercise are not the only things that can cause sweating.
Other conditions can also trigger the production of excess sweat, especially at night during sleep. These include:
Infection – Some infections in the body could lead to night sweats. The most common infections that could lead to profuse sweating at night include tuberculosis, influenza infection or flu, other febrile illnesses and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Obstructive sleep apnea – This is a condition wherein the walls of the throat narrow during sleep, leading to difficulty of breathing. Night sweats happen in people with OSA three times more often than others.
Hormonal disorders – Various hormone or endocrine imbalances that occur with diabetes, puberty, pregnancy, thyroid disease and diabetes can lead to hot flushes and night sweats.
Cancer – Night sweats can be a sign of certain cancers. The most common type of cancer linked to night sweats is lymphoma. In some cases, people with leukemia may also experience night sweats because of fever.
Hypoglycemia – In some cases, hypoglycemia or decreased blood sugar levels can cause sweating. People who take insulin may experience night sweating.
Neurological conditions – In some cases, conditions can lead to night sweats such as stroke, post-traumatic syringomyelia, autonomic neuropathy and dyslexia may cause profuse sweating.
Anxiety disorders – Anxiety disorder may lead to night sweats because the nervous system is stimulated.
Substance abuse – Substance abuse, particular heroin, can lead to night sweats.
Menopause – During menopause, women experience hot flashes that go with all the body changes. Due to hot flashes, women may experience night sweats more often than others.
The other causes include:
- Brucellosis (a bacterial infection)
- Autoimmune disorders
- Autonomic neuropathy (damage to your autonomic nerves)
- Carcinoid syndrome (a certain type of cancerous tumor in your intestines)
- Hodgkin’s lymphoma (Hodgkin’s disease) (Hodgkin’s disease)
- Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
- Myelofibrosis (a bone marrow disorder)
- Osteomyelitis (a bone infection)
- Pyogenic abscess (a pus-filled cavity caused by an infection)
- Sleep disorders (such as obstructive sleep apnea)
- Syringomyelia (a fluid-filled cyst in the spinal cord)
- Pheochromocytoma (a rare adrenal gland tumor)
- Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
Some medications may have side effects leading to profuse sweating, particularly at night. These include:
Many drugs like antidepressants, drugs for diabetes, pain relievers, hormones, and steroids may lead to sweating. Here are the common drugs that may lead to night sweats:
- Naproxen sodium
- Nicotine replacement
The treatment for night sweat mainly depends on the underlying cause. If the cause of the condition is a hormonal imbalance, correcting hormone irregularities is important. If the cause is due to the side effects of medicines, adjusting the dosages are needed.
Many types of doctors may be consulted for night sweats. Some of the doctors that could treat the underlying causes are gynecologists for menopause, internal medicine specialist for various health conditions, endocrinologists for hormonal imbalances and family doctors.
Before treating night sweats, the doctor needs to conduct a detailed medical history, physical assessment and laboratory examinations to detect the causes of night sweats. Depending upon the known cause, the doctor can request further tests such as X-rays and CT scans. Blood tests are usually used to determine the levels of certain hormones in the body.
Treating night sweats
Night sweats are a symptom of a medical condition or an underlying problem that may need treatment. However, the treatment is directed on the cause rather than the night sweats themselves.
For instance, if the condition is caused by menopause, then the treatment is a hormonal replacement. If the cause is cancer, chemotherapy and radiation are the recommended treatment options. Also, if the condition is due to an infection, the doctor can prescribe antibiotics or antivirals, depending on the disease’s causative agent.
If there is no direct or determined cause of the condition, the treatment mostly consists of both prevention and management:
- Sleep in a comfortable and cool room with good ventilation.
- Wear breathable and non-synthetic nightclothes and beddings
- Practice relaxation and breathing techniques to manage night sweats and keep you relaxed, particularly if you have anxiety
- Avoid using heavy and restricted comforters or blankets
- Apply antiperspirant to the parts of the body affected like the hands, feet, hairline, underarms, back, groin and chest.
- Avoid caffeine, spicy foods, alcohol, smoking and eating about two to three hours before sleeping at night.
- Do not eat foods high in fat and sugar
- If it’s warm or hot, stay and sleep in an air-conditioned room or use an electric fan
- Get enough exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy weight if normal and lose weight if overweight or obese
- Drink lots of water
- Consult your doctor for any side effects associated with your medicines.
The outlook for a patient who has night sweats depends on the overall health of the patient and the underlying cause. When the night sweats are associated with menopause, it will improve after menopause. If the condition is linked to being obese, losing weight will help reduce night sweats and if the condition is caused by a more serious disease like cancer, the outlook depends on the severity of the condition, the stage at which the cancer is diagnosed, and if the condition runs in the family.