If you are wearing too many layers or sleeping in a hot environment, this may cause sweating at night. However, the term night sweats is used for severe hot flashes at night, unrelated to environment. This is not characterized by flushing, warmth and redness to the face, rather, night sweats are a bit more extreme in severity.
Night sweats are often repeated episodes related to a medical condition or illness and may be associated with fever, chills, weight loss, localized pain, cough, diarrhea or other symptoms that are concerning. It is important to consult a health-care professional for unexplained night sweats that do not resolve over time. Treatment of night sweats depends on the underlying cause of the problem, which is a major part of resolving the issue.
Cause #1: Diabetic Hypoglycemia
Hypoglycemia, is also known as low blood sugar. It may be defined as a decrease in blood glucose (<50mg/dl) below normal or to a level that induces symptoms or signs like altered mental status (i.e. confusion, irritability) and/or sympathetic nervous system stimulation. There are many causes of hypoglycemia, and diabetes mellitus is one of them. Patients with diabetes that experience hypoglycemia usually report a history of insulin (i.e. overdose or changes in dosage) or hypoglycemic agent use.
The Sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is part of the autonomous nervous system. The SNS directs the body’s rapid involuntary response to dangerous or stressful situations. Imagine that you are about to get mugged by a stranger. In response, the SNS will trigger a fight-or-flight response in your body and release catecholamines (i.e. epinephrine, norepinephrine) into your blood. Your heart will start to beat faster, your blood pressure will elevate and blood will be pushed into your muscles, brain and other organs (you might have to run and stay alert, right?). Meanwhile, it will also trigger the release of glucose and fats from storage sites into the blood to supply energy to the parts of your body that might need it. Hypoglycemia is also considered a “stressful” situation for the body. Among other hormonal responses, the SNS is activated to release glucose into the blood in order to provide energy for important metabolic functions, especially for those carried out by the brain. Symptoms of SNS activation include, sweating, shakiness, tachycardia, anxiety, and a sensation of hunger.
Other symptoms of hypoglycemia (related to brain dysfunction due to low glucose) include weakness, dizziness, difficulty with concentration, confusion, and blurred vision. Regardless of the cause, fast diagnosis and treatment are crucial in any patient with hypoglycemia. If you suspect that a patient with diabetes mellitus might be experiencing symptoms of hypoglycemia, seek medical attention immediately.