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Diabetes

Night Sweats and Low-Blood Sugar

08/01/2000

Question:

For the past several weeks I have been having night sweats. It started when I had a cold and cough. I went to a doctor after having the cold for three weeks. He said I had residual broncitis (because he thought it was going away) and possibly a secondary infection. He gave me antibiotics and did not really address the night-sweats issue. The sweating did go away while I was on the antibiotic but I have been off of them a couple of days and the sweating has come back. I wasn`t sure if the two were related. I understand that this is probably not in your area of expertise but I wanted to give you background for my question to you. Is there any way this could be associated with a drop in blood-sugar? I have had gestational diabetes with all three of my pregnancies (I am 30 yrs old now) with one of those children being still-born (however, my OB assured me it was unrelated to the diabetes although we don`t know what caused my babies death). While reading up on gest. diabetes I found that there is often a drop in blood sugar during the night. When I have episodes of low blood sugar during the day I get cold sweats and shakiness. I had a glucose challenge (1 hr test) within the past several months and was told everything looked fine. Does this sound as if the night sweats are related to a drop in blood sugar or does it sound like something else? If this continues, what kind of doctor should I go see? My regular doctor has left the area and the last doctor that I saw was a temporary replacement. Thank you.

Answer:

The key to sorting through a situation like this is to have an orderly and systematic approach, consider the possibilities carefully and do tests for the causes that seem the most likely. Sweating is a non-specific symptom, meaning that there are a number of unrelated things that can cause it. It can be related to fever, infection, physical activity or stress among other things. The term "night sweats" is one particular category of sweating. To most doctors, it raises the question of tuberculosis but there are other possibilities also. It would help to know what else is going on at the same time. If night sweats occur in somebody who takes insulin in the evening, then it could indeed be related to hypoglycemia and it would be worthwhile to check the blood sugar at the time of the sweats or, if they are highly predictable, just prior to the time the sweating is expected. It would also be helpful to check your temperature at or just prior to the time of the sweats. The facts you`ve given so far tend to support an infectious cause. You need to be watchful whether the sweats are truly only at night. I think you`ll need some more input from your doctor to sort this one out.

Good luck.

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Response by:

Robert M Cohen, MD Robert M Cohen, MD
Professor of Clinical Medicine
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati