7 Causes of Night Sweats.

We often think of night sweating in association with the menopause.  It’s an uncomfortable symptom that can wake you (and potentially your bed partner) during the night and diminish the quality of sleep you get.

However remember that if your bedroom is hot or you have too many bed clothes then sweating is the body’s natural way of cooling down – so sweating at night in that case would be normal.  If you sleep with a bed partner who is colder than you and you have a heavy duvet, you may want to think about a ‘his and hers duvet’ – a duvet that will suit both your temperature needs.  There’s more about these and how they work in the link.

There are other causes of night sweats that aren’t related to an over-heated environment and we’re going to look at some of them here.  Some of these may seem severe and frightening but look rationally at your night sweat symptom and discuss it with your doctor before worrying.

  1. Menopause.

The changes in the female hormone levels before and at the menopause mean that night sweats and hot flushes/hot flashes are common.  They can happen during the peri-menopause – the time before you notice that your periods are becoming more infrequent and stop.  Talk to your doctor about when it would be appropriate to start taking hormone replacement therapy as symptom relief.

2. Idiopathic hyperhidrosis.

‘Hyperhidrosis’ simply means over-sweating or sweating too much.  ‘Idiopathic’ means that doctors can’t find a cause for what’s happening.   This is frustrating on one hand but reassuring on the other when you read about the other causes of night sweats below.

In some instances, for example if the underarms or palms sweat too much, some surgical procedures may correct this.  Talk to your doctor about these options.

3.  Infections.

Several infections can cause night sweats.  Most are relatively unusual conditions in most people but some are more common in some populations and lifestyles.

Tuberculosis is becoming more common and most frequently associated with night sweats.  It’s a bacterial infection that most commonly is found in the lungs but can be active or dormant (inactive) in any organ. Doctors caring for immigrant populations living in poor housing and close proximity to each other are reporting an increase in TB. There are also worrying increases in drug resistant TB.

Other bacterial infections such as osteomyelitis (inflammation in the bones), endocarditis (infection in the heart valves), abscesses (eg boils, tonsil infections, appendicitis, diverticulitis), and viral infections such as AIDS/HIV can all cause symptoms of night sweats.

4.  Cancers.

Night sweats are also a symptom of early cancer, especially lymphoma.  But there are also other symptoms of cancers – unexplained weight loss and fevers are two.

5. Many medications cause night sweats.

Drug side effects are common so read the patient information leaflet with any medication you’re taking to see if it’s listed there.

Drugs that commonly cause night sweats include:

  • Some antidepressants and other psychiatric meds
  • Niacin and niacinamide(vitamin B3)  – used for a wide range of conditions such as high cholesterol, migraine, some skin conditions (bullous pemphigoid and granuloma annulare), vitamin B deficiency and many more problems
  • Tamoxifen – used for people with breast cancer
  • Hydralazine – used for lowering blood pressure
  • Sildenafil (Viagra) – used for erectile dysfunction (impotence)
  • Cortisone (prednisone, prednisolone) – used for inflammatory conditions and sometimes in COPD.
  1. Hypoglycaemia.

Hypoglycaemia is the medical term for low blood sugar and can occur in people with diabetes, especially those using insulin.  If hypoglycaemia happens during the day it will also cause sweating, confusion and eventually loss of consciousness.  At night the same symptoms may occur but because you’re asleep no one notices the confusion symptom.  This can be very dangerous. Talk to your specialist if you think this may be happening.

  1. An over active thyroid.

Thyroid disorders are quite common.  There can be over active or under active disease.  In the over active thyroid you would also have symptoms of weight loss, feeling very edgy/nervous, diarrhoea and feeling hot.  Look here for more information on the over active thyroid.

It’s important to discuss your concerns appropriately with your doctor and not to worry as this will prevent you sleeping too.  Look at reputable websites such as http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ and www.patient.co.uk for more information on the items discussed here.

Elspeth Raisbeck

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