Night sweats are almost always caused by some sort of underlying medical condition, but in certain cases, the symptom could signal a serious illness. This is especially true if sleepwear and bed linens become soaked even though the temperature in the sleeping environment is not too hot. Although night sweats are more commonly thought of as a symptom of menopause, researchers found that the chances for night sweats increase with age for both women and men. In addition, older people who complain about night sweats also report muscle and joint pain.
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Sweating often occurs in conjunction with the hot flashes that are a common symptom of menopause. Because the ovaries are producing less oestrogen, blood vessels in the skin may dilate. Night sweats can be one of the first symptoms of menopause as the hormonal imbalance sends signals to the brain to increase the heart rate and open sweat glands. To make matters worse, women who are overweight or under added stress are several times more likely to suffer hot flashes and night sweats during menopause.
Chronic infections such as tuberculosis can cause night sweats, especially if the infection reactivates later in life. Infections such as osteomyelitis (an infection within the bones) endocarditis (inflammation of the heart valves), appendicitis, tonsillitis or the AIDS virus can cause profuse sweating as the result of a sudden drop in body temperature after running a high fever. Respiratory infections, abscesses in the liver or spleen and fungal infections like histoplasmosis can cause night sweats as well. The symptoms of histoplasmosis are similar to those of tuberculosis in that a person develops a cough in addition to night sweats. The disease usually affects the lungs and can be life-threatening if untreated.
Idiopathic hyperhidrosis is a medical condition whereby the body produces too much sweat without there being any obvious cause. What it comes down to is that some people simply sweat a lot. If this is the case, even though the condition can be uncomfortable, it has no serious health effects other than those associated with loss of sleep.
Night sweats are often an early symptom of certain cancers, particularly lymphoma and malignant tumours. The condition can also be a side effect of cancer treatments. Hormone levels in the bloodstream can be affected when reproductive organs are damaged either by the cancer itself or due to treatments targeted at destroying the cancer, such as radiation or surgical removal of the diseased organ. Patients whose immune systems have been compromised are also at greater risk for night sweats.
Night sweats can be a side effect of some medications, including antidepressants and drugs prescribed to control high blood pressure. Steroids such as cortisone and prednisone can also trigger night sweats. People with low blood sugar who are required to take insulin or oral anti-diabetic medications may frequently experience the symptom as well. Even common over-the-counter medications such as aspirin and acetaminophen have been known to produce night sweats in some individuals. This is often the result of a rebound effect after helping the body to fight off a fever.
Hormonal imbalances, including hyperthyroidism, may be responsible for causing night sweats. Also, some neurological conditions like stroke and autonomic neuropathy can interfere with the signals between the brain and the heart, blood vessels and sweat glands. Acid reflux is yet another medical condition for which night sweats might be one of the symptoms. If this is the case, antacids or a class of medications known as H2 blockers may offer some relief.
The most effective treatment for night sweats is to determine the cause. You should schedule an appointment to see your doctor if night sweats continue on a regular basis. If night sweats become so bad that you lose sleep, or if they are accompanied by weight loss and fever, you need to get a proper diagnosis and not delay seeking treatment.
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