cold sweat

Cold sweats, as the name suggests, describe the phenomenon of sweating and feeling chilly at the same time. People can experience cold sweats for a number of reasons.

Hormones, including stress hormones, regulate sweat glands. So cold sweats usually mean your body is facing stress. We sweat to cool and calm the body so we can react to the stressor.

What’s causing stress could be of low concern, like self-limited anxiety or a minor infection. Or, it could be a major problem, like a serious infection or stroke.

“Cold sweats are hard to ignore. Try to identify other symptoms that go along with the cold sweats to help you identify what might be the cause. If you aren’t sure, don’t be afraid to get urgent help,” says Alyssa D’Addezio, MD, Greater Pittsburgh Medical Associates-UPMC.

If you have cold sweats, it’s important to think about what led to the cold sweats and any other symptoms you also have. In some cases, these can be treated at home with rest and hydration. Or, you may need immediate medical attention.

Here are common reasons cold sweats occur and how to treat cold sweats in each case.

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Common Reasons for Cold Sweats

Common reasons for cold sweats include fever, anxiety, and the side effects of a new medication. These are usually not medical emergencies and will resolve with time or a visit to the doctor’s office.

Fever

Normally, people with fevers feel hot. But as the fever improves, you may feel cold sweats.

You can treat fevers at home so long as you don’t also develop concerning symptoms like shortness of breath. You can use a blanket when you feel cold sweats and rehydrate with water, juice, or other fluids. You can also treat your fever with over-the-counter medicines like acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

Hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating)

This is a condition by which the sweat glands overproduce sweat. People with this condition tend to sweat excessively during exercise and hot weather. But they can also sometimes start sweating when their body temperature is normal or even when cold.

Though not dangerous, hyperhidrosis is often embarrassing and unpleasant. A variety of measures can treat this condition, including special antiperspirants, medications, Botox, and even surgery. But surgery is a last resort, and doctors will start with a simpler treatment first.

Anxiety

Sweating is common when anxious, even if you’re not hot. Someone may get cold sweats ahead of an important presentation or test, for instance.

The best thing to do in this case is to breathe deeply and slowly to calm the nerves. If your anxiety is serious and getting in the way of enjoying your life, talk to your doctor. They can prescribe medications or connect you to therapy or support groups.

Medications

Some medications can cause cold sweats as a side effect. If you experience this within the first hours, days, or weeks of taking a new medication, talk to your doctor. The doctor may need to switch your medication to avoid this side effect.

Serious Causes of Cold Sweats

If you suspect a more serious problem may cause your cold sweats, you need to seek medical attention right away.

Heart attack

Cold sweats are one of the possible signs of a heart attack. If you have cold sweats along with other symptoms that could mean a heart attack, you need to call an ambulance. Other signs of a heart attack include:

  • Chest pain.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Weakness or dizziness.
  • Pain in the shoulder or arm, either on one or both sides.
  • Back or neck pain.
  • Nausea or vomiting.

Keep in mind that some people will experience only one or two symptoms. If a symptom linked to heart attacks is sudden and there is no other clear cause, it’s worth going to the hospital.

Shock

The body goes into shock when the blood pressure suddenly drops. This can happen because of a serious injury, serious infection, allergic reaction, or other reasons. Other symptoms of shock can include fast breathing, confusion, pale and clammy skin, and a fast or slow heart rate.

People in shock need immediate medical care to increase blood supply and oxygen in the body.

Low blood sugar

Low blood sugar can happen in people who are taking insulin for diabetes. In addition to cold sweats, it can cause dizziness, shakiness, tiredness, and confusion.

People with low blood sugar need to consume sugar, such as through juice or glucose gels. Because low blood sugar can prove fatal, it’s important to take action right away.

If the symptoms don’t improve with sugar, or if a person is unconscious or becoming less alert, they need hospital care.

Diseases like thyroid disorders and cancers

Some diseases, including some cancers and thyroid problems, can cause cold sweats. If you are frequently getting cold sweats, and there is no clear cause, see your doctor. Your doctor can run tests to determine if an underlying disease is the culprit.

Sources

American Academy of Dermatology. Hyperhidrosis: Diagnosis and treatment. Link

American Cancer Society. What are hot flashes and sweating? Link

American Heart Association. Proactive steps can reduce chances of second heart attack. Link

Medline Plus. Sweat. Link

Rod Brouhard. Causes and treatment of cold sweats. Verywell Health. Link

Tim Jewell. What Causes Cold Sweats and What Can You Do About It? Healthline. Link

About UPMC

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