The menopause is the most common cause of excessive sweating, night sweats and hot flushes. These arise as a result of a decline in the female hormones during this stage of a woman’s life.
There are however, other causes. Some of these are rare, but may be a sign or symptom of a serious underlying health condition.
Some people have a tendency to sweat more than others. This condition, known as hyperhydrosis, tends to affect men more than women and occurs both during the day and at night.
It is difficult to determine when ‘sweating more easily’ crosses the line to a medical condition. Hyperhydrosis does not pose a threat to health but can be embarrassing, leading to loss of confidence, especially in social situations.
There are a number of ways in which your doctor may treat hyperhydrosis ranging from prescribed drugs to the use of surgery to remove sweat glands. Alternatively, the herb sage (Salvia officinalis) has been used in the past to help with excessive sweating in both men and women.
It is normal for us to perspire a little when we are under stress or a bit anxious. It is the body’s normal response and stems from the ‘fight or flight’ response from our caveman days.
However, some people suffer more severely with longer lasting symptoms such as seen with a Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Symptoms include excessive sweating both during the day and night.
The most common infections in developed countries are the common cold and influenza (flu). Symptoms of a severe cold are similar to that of flu and include fever, sweating and night sweats.
Any severe infection of the body, whether viral or bacterial, can give rise to fever and sweating. However, there are some specific infections which feature night sweats, including:
- Glandular fever. Infection by the Epstein-Barr virus. It is more common in young adults and is sometimes known as the ‘kissing disease’.
- Tuberculosis (TB). This is a bacterial infection giving rise to a variety of symptoms including a productive or chesty cough
- Endocarditis. A viral infection of the valves present in the heart
- Osteomyelitis. An infection of the bones, usually caused by bacteria
- HIV/AIDs. This viral infection depresses the body’s immune response
- Fungal infections.
This is when blood sugar levels go down in diabetics dependent on insulin. An episode of hypoglycaemia or ‘low blood sugar’ can arise because of a missed meal, poor diabetic control, lifestyle changes, illness or infection.
Symptoms include confusion and sweating. As we do not eat whilst we are sleeping, hypoglycaemic attacks can be more frequent during the night.
Certain types of cancers can give rise to night sweats. These include:
- Lymphoma. A cancer of the lymph tissue
- Leukaemias. A cancer of the blood
- Phaechromocytoma. A rare cancer of the adrenal glands giving rise to flushing as well as night sweats
- Carcinoid tumours. Another rare form of cancer which produces chemicals leading to flushing and sometimes, excessive sweating
Certain drugs, including some prescribed by your doctor, can give rise to excessive sweating and night sweats as a side effect. These include:
- Blood pressure medicines
- Heroin. Especially during withdrawal of the drug
There are a wide variety of other health conditions which may give rise to night sweats and these include:
- Hyperthyroidism. An overactive thyroid gland which produces too much thyroid hormone (thyroxine)
- Sleep apnoea. This a sleep disorder which leads to uneven or interrupted breathing whilst asleep. It is more common in those who are overweight and who snore
- Fibromyalgia. This is a complex problem with many symptoms including painful muscles, tiredness and difficulty sleeping. For many, the underlying cause might be a lingering viral infection and this might explain why night sweats may be experienced.