Have you ever experienced sudden sweating without any apparent cause or physical exertion? This might be happening because of cold sweats. Cold sweats may not sound dangerous, but they can cause pain and can be the side effect of some underlying health issues. Understanding the possible causes of cold sweats can help individuals identify and address any underlying health issues and seek appropriate medical care when necessary. This article is an essential guide to understanding the various health conditions associated with cold sweats.
What are cold sweats?
In human beings, sweating normally occurs to cool the body through evaporation and happens in response to excess warmth or exertion. In contrast, “cold sweat” refers to sudden, whole-body sweating that doesn’t stem from heat or exertion. “Cold sweats are a sign of sudden, significant stress, which could be physical, psychological or a combination of both. The activation of the fight-or-flight (stress) response usually triggers cold sweat,” says Dr Tushar Tayal – Consultant, Internal Medicine, CK Birla Hospital, Gurugram.
What causes cold sweats?
Cold sweats are not an actual medical diagnosis but can be a symptom of several health conditions. As per Dr Tayal, here are five most common causes of cold sweats:
Cold sweats can be a symptom of anxiety disorders such as panic attacks, social anxiety, and generalised anxiety. “Anxiety triggers the body’s “fight or flight” response, which releases hormones like adrenaline that increase heart rate and blood pressure, and cause sweating,” says Dr Tayal. Cold sweats due to anxiety are often accompanied by other symptoms such as trembling, dizziness, and shortness of breath.
2. Low blood pressure or syncope
Dr Tayal explains that sudden drops in blood pressure can cause reduced blood flow to the brain, leading to a loss of consciousness for a few seconds. This is called syncope and is often preceded by cold sweats. Low blood pressure can be caused by dehydration, blood loss, heart problems, or medications. People who experience syncope and cold sweats should seek medical attention to determine the underlying cause and get treatment.
3. Hypoglycemia or low blood sugar
The doctor explains that in people with diabetes who are taking medication, missing meals or snacks, blood sugar levels may drop below 70 mg/dL, leading to symptoms such as sweating or even loss of consciousness. It’s important to treat hypoglycemia promptly by consuming a fast-acting source of sugar such as fruit juice, candy, or glucose tablets. People with diabetes should talk to their healthcare provider about how to prevent and manage hypoglycemia.
Certain types of cancer, such as lymphoma, leukemia, and bone cancer, can cause cold sweats, which often occur at night. Cancer-related night sweats can be intense, causing a person’s clothes and bed linens to become drenched. Cold sweats at night can also be a symptom of other conditions, so it’s essential to speak to a healthcare professional for an accurate diagnosis.
5. Heart attack and angina
Chest pain, accompanied by profuse sweating and shortness of breath, can be signs of a heart attack or angina (a type of chest pain). “This is a medical emergency, and the patient should be taken to the hospital emergency room immediately,” advises Dr Tayal. In some cases, a heart attack can occur without chest pain and present with cold sweats as the primary symptom. It is best to seek medical attention if you experience any of these symptoms.