Night Sweats: Causes and Treatments in Men and Women

Facts and Definition of Night Sweats

  • Night sweats are excessive sweating that occurs at night.
  • Night sweats are often, but not always, associated with hot flashes that women may experience during the menopausal transition.
  • Many other medical conditions and even certain medications can cause night sweats.
  • True night sweats are not related to an overheated room or sleeping environment.
  • Other symptoms can be associated with night sweats, depending on the cause. Associated symptoms can include
    • flushing,
    • fever, or
    • chills.
  • It is important to consult a health-care professional for unexplained night sweats that do not resolve.
  • Treatment of night sweats depends on the underlying cause of the problem.

What Are Night Sweats?

Night sweats refer to any excess sweating occurring during the night. If your bedroom is unusually hot or you are using too many bedclothes, you may begin to sweat during sleep - and this is normal. In order to distinguish night sweats that arise from medical causes from those that occur because one's surroundings are too warm, doctors generally refer to true night sweats as severe hot flashes occurring at night that can drench sleepwear and sheets, and that are not related to an overheated environment. It is important to note that flushing (a warmth and redness of the face or trunk) also may be hard to distinguish from true night sweats.

What Causes Night Sweats in Men and Women?

Night sweating can arise from harmless situations or serious disease. If your bedroom is unusually hot or you are using too many bedclothes, you may begin to sweat during sleep - and this is normal. In order to distinguish night sweats that arise from medical causes from those that occur because one's surroundings are too warm, doctors generally refer to true night sweats as severe hot flashes occurring at night that can drench sleepwear and sheets, and that are not related to an overheated environment. It is important to note that flushing (a warmth and redness of the face or trunk) may also be hard to distinguish from true night sweats.

There are many different causes of night sweats. Some of the known conditions that can cause night sweats include:

Cancer: Night sweats are an early symptom of some cancers. The most common type of cancer associated with night sweats is lymphoma. Leukemia also may cause night sweats. However, people who have an undiagnosed cancer frequently have other symptoms as well, such as unexplained weight loss and fevers.

Hypoglycemia: Sometimes low blood sugar can cause sweating. People who are taking insulin or oral anti-diabetic medications may experience hypoglycemia at night that is accompanied by sweating.

Hormone disorders: Sweating or flushing can be seen with several hormone disorders, including pheochromocytoma, carcinoid syndrome, and hyperthyroidism.

Neurologic conditions: Uncommonly, neurologic conditions including autonomic dysreflexia, post-traumatic syringomyelia, stroke, and autonomic neuropathy may cause increased sweating and possibly lead to night sweats.

Idiopathic hyperhidrosis: Idiopathic hyperhidrosis is a condition in which the body chronically produces too much sweat without any identifiable medical cause.

Infections: Classically, tuberculosis is the infection most notoriously associated with night sweats. However, bacterial infections, such as those that cause endocarditis (inflammation of the heart valves), osteomyelitis (inflammation within the bones), and abscesses all may result in night sweats. Night sweats are also a symptom of HIV/AIDS.

What Medications Cause Night Sweats?

Taking certain medications can lead to night sweats.

  • Antidepressant medications are a common type of medication that can lead to night sweats. All types of antidepressants can cause night sweats as a side effect.
  • Other psychiatric drugs have also been associated with night sweats.
  • Medicines taken to lower fever such as aspirin and acetaminophen can sometimes lead to sweating.
  • Other types of drugs can cause flushing, which, as mentioned above, may be confused with night sweats. Some of the many drugs that can cause flushing include
  • niacin (taken in the higher doses used for lipid disorders),
  • tamoxifen (Nolvadex),
  • hydralazine (Apresoline), nitroglycerine, and sildenafil (Viagra). Many other drugs not mentioned above, including cortisone medications, such as prednisone and prednisolone, may also be associated with flushing or night sweats.

How Common Are Night Sweats During the Menopausal Transition?

The hot flashes that accompany the menopausal transition can occur at night and cause sweating. This is a very common cause of night sweats in perimenopausal women.

What Are Other Symptoms of Night Sweats in Men and Women?

Excess sweating that occurs at night may drench sheets and bedclothes when severe. As mentioned previously, sometimes the sensation of flushing (a warmth and redness of the face or trunk) may be hard to distinguish from true night sweats or may accompany night sweats. Depending upon the underlying cause of the night sweats, other symptoms may occur in association with the sweating. For example, with certain infections and cancers, fever and chills are associated with the night sweats.

When Should You Seek Medical Care for Night Sweats?

Contact your health-care professional if you have persistent night sweats that do not resolve or if you have night sweats associated with fevers or any other troubling symptoms.

What Kind of Doctor Treats Night Sweats?

Many different kinds of doctors may be consulted for night sweats, including gynecologists, internal medicine specialists, pediatricians, or family practitioners. If night sweats are a symptom of an infectious disease, an infectious diseases specialist may provide treatment. Similarly, those with night sweats due to cancers will be under the care of a medical or surgical oncologist. Rare causes of night sweats may be treated by neurologists, endocrinologists, or surgeons.

What Exams and Tests Diagnose Night Sweats?

To determine what is causing night sweats in a particular individual, a doctor must obtain a detailed medical history and often order tests to decide if an underlying medical condition is responsible for the night sweats. Depending upon the cause of the night sweats and an individual's medical history, tests may include blood tests, imaging studies (such as X-rays or CT scans), and further specialized tests.

10 Ways to Deal with Menopause Symptoms

Menopause can be problematic for many women if they have more than one symptom at a time. Check out these 10 ways to deal with the symptoms of menopause.

  1. Keep a "hot flash" diary. Log and track your hot flashes and any environmental or emotional factors are contribute to it, for example, foods and drinks you may have eaten. Was it a particularly stressful day?
  2. Do Yoga, tai chi, or meditate.
  3. Give your body help. If sex is painful talk to your doctor.
  4. Make more time for sex.
  5. Mood highs and oh-so very low mood lows

What Medications Are Used for the Treatment of Night Sweats?

Night sweats are generally a symptom of an underlying problem that may require medical treatment. However, typically treatment is not directed at the night sweats themselves, but rather at the underlying cause. For examples, hormonal disorders, cancers, and infections are among the causes of night sweats in which treatment is directed at the underlying condition.

Night sweats arising as a symptom of perimenopause may be treated with hormone therapy, if appropriate. Both estrogen therapy (ET) and combined estrogen and progestin therapy (hormone therapy or HT) have been used successfully to treat symptoms of perimenopause when these become severe or troubling.

Night sweats arising as a side effect of medications may improve when the medication is discontinued or changed, if appropriate. Your health-care professional may be able to suggest an alternative form of therapy if you are experiencing severe side effects from taking a medication.

Can Night Sweats Be Prevented?

Night sweats associated with fevers, infections, cancers, or serious underlying conditions are not preventable.

What Is the Outlook for a Person Suffering from Night Sweats?

The prognosis or outlook for an individual will vary according to the underlying health status of the individual as well as the cause of the night sweats. Night sweats associated with the menopausal transition typically improve over time after menopause.

Reviewed on 9/11/2017

REFERENCE:

Kasper et al. "Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine." 19th ed. 2015.

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