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Night Sweats: Symptoms, Causes, Risks Factors, Treatment

Editor's Note: This article has been recently updated with latest information and research studies.

What are Night Sweats?

Night sweats are a condition also known as sleep hyperhidrosis or nocturnal hyperhidrosis. This is a condition when excessive sweating occurs during sleep, often drenching night clothes and bedding. In a research that studied 2267 patients who visited a general physician, it was found that in the previous 30 days 41% of them had experienced night sweats. Hence, night sweats are a relatively common occurrence. In most cases, night sweats are harmless because they may occur as a result of a warm sleeping environment. This may be caused by unusually high temperatures in the bedroom or an excessive number of bed covers. In some cases, however, night sweats are linked to various conditions. For example, night sweats can be brought about by certain types of cancers, infections, endocrine disorders, rheumatic disorders and drugs. For women over the age of 40, night sweats may be a symptom of menopause.

Night Sweats and the Menopause

During menopause, a woman’s body does not produce* optimum levels of the hormones needed to regulate the menstrual cycle and all related functions. The fluctuating levels of these hormones – namely estrogen and progesterone – results in a variety of symptoms. Night sweats, sometimes accompanied by hot flashes during the day, are a common symptom of menopause. Up to 75% of menopausal women experience night sweats with varying degrees of severity and frequency.

Symptoms of Menopause Night Sweats

Night sweats are a common symptom of menopause. They occur during the night and result in night clothes and bed covers drenched in sweat. Night sweats may be accompanied by feeling excessively hot with heart palpitations. This menopausal symptom can lead to (or is accompanied by) the menopausal symptoms listed below.

Headache

Women entering the menopause and perimenopause stages are sometimes prone to severe headaches. This is also linked to lower levels of estrogen and progesterone. Although sometimes be linked to fatigue and insomnia, these headaches often last a few hours, and a menopausal women can experience them for up to 5 years.

Insomnia

Failure to sleep is another common symptom of menopause. Insomnia occurs when a menopausal woman fails to fall asleep at night, or wakes up as a result of night sweats and is unable to go back to sleep after that. A research study in 2006 found that up to 72% of women experienced insomnia at least once a week, with up to 59% of these losing as much as four hours of sleep every night.

Flushing

Flushing, commonly known as hot flushes, is also a relatively common menopausal symptom. Up to 85% of women experience this condition during menopause. Flushing is evidenced by a feeling of intense heat, a flushed skin on the upper part of the body, sweating and, in some cases, heart palpitations. Flushing, when it occurs at night, is known as night sweats.

Excessive Perspiring

This menopausal symptom usually occurs as a result of night sweats or flushing. When a menopausal woman feels intense heat, then her body perspires excessively to the extent that her clothes are soaked in sweat.

Nausea

Nausea is not usually linked to menopause by most medical practitioners. However, it has been found that the two are related, and nausea during menopause may be caused by a deficiency in progesterone. Progesterone, which has a calming effect on the nervous system and on pain and inflammation symptoms, is lower in the body than it should be. This can lead to menopausal symptoms like headaches and nausea.

Irregular Heartbeats

Irregular heartbeats are a menopausal symptom where there is a feeling that there are skipped heart beats. This can be accompanied by dizziness, shortness of breath or discomfort in the chest. Irregular heartbeats are linked to a decrease* in estrogen production during perimenopause and menopause. These irregular heartbeats, also known as premature ventricular contractions (PVCs), are usually non-threatening in nature.

Panic Attacks

Panic attacks can occur as a symptom of menopause between the ages of 45 and 55. Women who experience them have intense anxiety or fear, which may be accompanied by chest pain, shortness of breath and an intense feeling of helplessness. In a recent study, researchers suggested that women in menopause who suffer from panic attacks are at three times the risk of suffering from a stroke or heart attack within five years. This is because the panic symptoms, namely chest pain and shortness of breath, can be symptoms of cardiovascular disease. It is therefore imperative for a woman suffering from frequent panic attacks during menopause to have a thorough heart check.

Rapid Heart Rate

Rapid heart rate, or heart palpitations, usually accompany heat flushes and/or night sweats during menopause. Unless they are intense and prevent a woman from carrying on with normal life, they are usually nothing to worry about.

Chills

The chills are sometimes called cold flashes. Chills manifest as an unexpected and rapid intense cold feeling. This is often accompanied by shivering. Although not as common as hot flushes, chills are also as a result of lower estrogen levels in the body. Chills can occur on their own, or follow soon after a night sweat or hot flush when the sweat on the skin cools down the body.

Exhaustion

Exhaustion during menopause is sometimes referred to as menopausal fatigue. This symptom can be as a direct result of failing to sleep well during the night. Exhaustion often comes suddenly, and leads to weakness and reduced* energy levels In the body.

Difficulty Concentrating

Difficulty in concentrating is a common menopause symptom. Women will often find it hard to focus on everyday tasks, as well as complex and unusual ones. They may also find it difficult to remember things, and may feel disoriented.

Bizarre or Disturbing Dreams

Some menopausal women experience vivid, disturbing dreams. These are often accompanied by night sweats, where the heart is beating faster, the body temperature is higher and the body is sweating profusely.

What Causes Heavy Night Sweats in Women?

Heavy night sweats in menopausal women is caused by a sudden rise in the body temperature. This is linked to lower estrogen levels. One of the estrogen hormone’s functions is to control* the work of the hypothalamus. This is the body’s thermostat, controlling the temperature of the body. When the hypothalamus is overactive, then the brain may tell the body it is too cold, and needs to warm up. This leads to a sudden rise in temperature, and a hot flush occurs. When the hot flush occurs at night, it is known as night sweats.

How Many Menopausal Women have Night Sweats?

Night sweats typically occur from the age of 45 to 55, although perimenopausal and postmenopausal women can also experience night sweats for up to 10 years. Research studies have shown that about 75% of women in first world countries experience night sweats. This percentage varies for women from different cultural backgrounds, with Asian women having the lowest occurrence of night sweats during menopause.

Risks due to Night Sweats

Women who suffer from regular and severe night sweats are at a high risk for dehydration as a result of the loss of water through excessive sweating. Furthermore, because women who experience night sweats have to wake up in the middle of the night, they are also most likely to suffer from insomnia. This leads to fatigue and weakness of the body because of lack of sleep.

How to Stop* Menopausal Night Sweats?

The most effective and consistent method to stop* menopausal night sweats is a lifestyle change. For example, women who are overweight or obese are at a greater risk of having frequent and severe hot flashes. A research study of 338 menopausal women who were overweight found that all those who lost weight over a period of six months experienced the biggest improvement in the severity and frequency of hot flashes. Exercise also helps lower the frequency of hot flashes. It is also important to control* room temperature at night and to wear layers of cool cotton clothing even in winter.

Conclusion of the Article

Menopausal night sweats can be a crippling condition that leads to fatigue and a general lower quality of life. These night sweats are also usually accompanied by a number of other menopausal symptoms. A woman who suffers from night sweats should consider not just drug treatment, but also natural methods which will assist her to lower the frequency and severity of night.