What could be causing my night sweats?

November 06, 2019 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health

Sweating is a naturally occurring bodily function. It is your body’s way of cooling itself. However, there are certain times when sweating is not normal and is actually a warning sign of something more serious.

Some people experience periods of heavy sweating, or hyperhidrosis, at night. Night sweating is more than just getting overheated from too many blankets on your bed. It can cause you to become drenched. And it can happen even if your room is cool and the bedding is comfortable.

What causes night sweating?

Night sweating has a number of causes. It can often be pinpointed to some fairly innocuous causes, such as exercising before bed, drinking alcohol or caffeine and/or eating spicy foods close to bedtime, or simply sleeping in a room that’s too warm. Stress and anxiety have also been linked to night sweating.

Sweating at night may be a side effect of various medical conditions, ranging from a fever, to low blood sugar, to an overactive thyroid. An estimated 75 percent of American women in perimenopause or menopause experience night sweats and hot flashes associated with hormonal changes. Certain medications, such as antidepressants and hormone therapy drugs, may also cause night sweating.

Though it hasn’t been determined why, night sweats may also be an early symptom of some cancers, such as leukemia, lymphoma, mesothelioma, bone or liver cancer. If your night sweats are due to cancer, you will probably experience other symptoms as well, like fever, unexplained weight loss or fatigue.

More commonly, night sweats may occur as a side effect of cancer treatments for someone who is already combating the disease. Certain chemotherapy drugs, hormone therapy drugs, pain relievers and steroids can cause sweating at night. Night sweats are common in people undergoing treatment for breast or prostate cancer.

Combating night sweats related to cancer

Treatment for night sweats depends on their cause. If it’s environmental or lifestyle, you may be able to alleviate symptoms by avoiding factors that trigger them.

If cancer or cancer treatment is causing your night sweats, they may subside as your body adjusts to treatment. In the meantime, your doctor may prescribe medication to help treat night sweats, although some of these medicines can cause side effects, so your doctor will need to see what works for you.

The American Cancer Society offers tips to help manage night sweats related cancer:

  • Drink plenty of fluids during the day to prevent dehydration
  • Change wet bedsheets/clothing right away
  • Bathe often to soothe the skin and maintain good hygiene
  • Wear loose-fitting cotton clothing
  • Wear two layers of clothing, to help wick the moisture away from the skin
  • Keep the temperature of your bedroom cool
  • Avoid spicy foods and large meals just before sleeping
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine before bedtime
  • Check for signs of a fever, and contact your doctor if you have one

Night sweats alone are usually harmless, but persistent and excessive sweating while you sleep may be your body’s way of alerting you that something is wrong.

If night sweats start unexpectedly or occur regularly or alongside other symptoms, talk to your doctor to find out what’s causing them.

Prevention is powerful medicine. At Edward-Elmhurst Health, we provide the latest screening and diagnostic tools to detect cancer early, when it’s most treatable. Learn more about our cancer screenings.

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