2012 – Night Sweats: A Systematic Review of the Literature
Authors: J.W. Mold, B.J. Holtzclaw and L. McCarthy
Background: Much of primary care involves helping patients manage symptoms. Nighttime sweating is a symptom linked to menopause, malignancies, autoimmune diseases, and infections. However, in primary care settings, night sweats are commonly reported by persons without these conditions.
Methods: We conducted a literature review, focusing on questions about definition, mechanisms, incidence/prevalence, measurement, clinical causes, evaluation, treatment, and prognosis. We limited our search to English language studies of adult humans published since 1966. Because studies of estrogen and androgen deficiency states had been reviewed by others, we excluded them. Search criteria were developed for each question. Publications meeting criteria were reviewed by the first 2 authors and consensus was reached through discussion.
Results: Prevalence estimates ranged from 10% among older primary care patients to 60% among women on an obstetrics inpatient unit. Life expectancy of primary care patients reporting night sweats did not appear to be reduced. Although many clinical causes have been suggested, most are not well supported. Algorithmic approaches to evaluation are not evidence-based. Alpha adrenergic blockers may reduce night sweats in patients taking serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Thalidomide and thioridazine may benefit some terminal cancer patients with night sweats.
Conclusions: The symptom, night sweats, appears to be nonspecific. Many questions about causation, evaluation, and management remain unanswered.