Have you ever been cold, but your body is profusely sweating? It’s a bizarre and unsettling feeling, but turns out this phenomenon, accurately known as cold sweats, is actually pretty common.
Cold sweats are usually categorized by a sudden onset of clammy, cool perspiration, usually unrelated to external temperatures or activity levels, says Shoshana Ungerleider, MD, a board-certified internal medicine physician and founder of End Well Foundation. “They might make the skin feel moist, chilled, and sticky, and as for the appearance, the skin may seem pale and damp, with droplets of sweat visible, especially on the forehead, palms, or underarms.”
Cold sweats are also often accompanied by symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, rapid heartbeat, or lightheadedness, depending on the underlying cause, Dr. Ungerleider adds.
To help you find out what you’re dealing with, here’s a starting point for what cold sweats are and what causes cold sweats. Ahead, doctors weigh in on the seven most common causes of cold sweats.
What Are Cold Sweats?
“Cold sweats refer to sudden sweating that doesn’t come from heat or physical exertion, instead, they often result from the body’s response to stress, fear, pain, or other forms of physical or emotional distress,” says Dr. Ungerleider.
It’s also worth noting that anyone and everyone can experience cold sweats. “They’re a universal physiological response, meaning people of all ages, genders, and health backgrounds can have them because it’s the body’s natural reaction to certain stimuli, like pain or stress,” she explains.
What Causes Cold Sweats?
Cold sweats can be a confusing and worrisome symptom, but they aren’t always a cause for concern. The duration, timing, and accompanying symptoms can tell you a lot about what’s causing the pesky sweats and when to see a doctor. Keep scrolling to understand more.
Anxiety can trigger a fight-or-flight response, releasing adrenaline and causing symptoms like cold sweats, Dr. Ungerleider says. So, if you’re experiencing fear or distress in the absence of any real danger, like before an important interview or test, your cold sweats may be due to anxiety, she explains.
Relaxation techniques like yoga, exercise, journaling, and meditation can soothe anxiety, but therapy and medications can also be used to manage symptoms, Dr. Ungerleider says. If your anxiety impacts daily functioning or you have frequent panic attacks, visit your doctor.
“During this time, the ovaries make less of the typical female hormones, estrogen and progesterone, and the drop in the hormone levels disrupts the body’s ability to regulate temperature,” says Jill Purdie, MD, a board-certified ob-gyn and medical director at Pediatrix Medical Group in Atlanta. “This disruption in the brain is what causes the hot flashes, which can be followed by cold sweats.
Cold sweats can be addressed with lifestyle modifications like wearing light layers you can add or remove throughout the day or adjusting the temperature in your home. However, if symptoms become severe or disrupt your daily life, talk with your doctor, because over-the counter-supplements, hormone replacement therapy, and certain antidepressants can help treat menopausal-related night sweats, she explains.
Low Blood Sugar
Low blood sugar, also known as hypoglycemia, refers to an abnormally low level of glucose in the bloodstream, Dr. Ungerleider says. “When blood sugar drops, the body releases adrenaline, leading to symptoms like cold sweats, shakiness, and anxiety.”
Hypoglycemia is rare in a person without diabetes, but consuming a quick source of sugar, followed by a complex carbohydrate like quinoa, potatoes, oatmeal, and whole-wheat bread, often helps, Dr. Ungerleider explains. Just note the underlying cause of hypoglycemia needs to be addressed, so if your episodes become frequent or if you lose consciousness, it’s time to see a doctor ASAP, she adds.
Just prior to getting your period, there is a drop in estrogen levels, which may trigger cold sweats, Dr. Purdie says. “These sweats will typically last for a few days and then resolve as the hormone levels increase again for the next reproductive cycle,” she explains. Treatment is typically unnecessary, but if your discomfort becomes disruptive or severe, talk with your doc, she adds.
A fever is the body’s response to infection or inflammation, and as a fever breaks or fluctuates, the body can produce cold sweats to cool down, Dr. Ungerleider says. Depending on the underlying cause, treatments can range from antibiotics to rest and hydration, but if your fever is high, persistent, or accompanied by other concerning symptoms like vomiting, extreme abdominal pain, or confusion, visit a healthcare provider, she adds.
Certain medications may have side effects that induce sweating, Dr. Ungerleider says. “Medications can alter the body’s hormonal balance or affect the central nervous system, leading to cold sweats,” she explains. In particular, Lupron, a medication used to treat endometriosis and fibroids, and certain infertility medications like Clomid may also trigger cold sweats, Dr. Purdie adds.
If you recently started a new medication and experience cold sweats, talk with the prescribing doctor who may be able to adjust the dosage or switch medications, Dr. Ungerleider says. However, if cold sweats are severe or accompanied by other adverse side effects, talk with a doctor immediately.
If you recently gave birth, your estrogen levels significantly drop, which may induce cold sweats, especially at night, Dr. Purdie says. “This will often occur for a few weeks and then resolve once the hormone levels stabilize,” she explains. These types of sweats do not require treatment but talk with your ob-gyn if your post-birth symptoms persist and/or become worrisome.
How to Treat Cold Sweats
First things first. You want to understand the cause of your cold sweats. From there, you can determine the best course of action and the proper treatment.
Now, if your cold sweats are sparked by anxiety or panic attacks, Dr. Ungerleider suggests relaxation techniques like yoga and journaling to subdue your symptoms. Medication and therapy can also be viable options if your anxiety impacts daily functioning, she adds.
If your sweats are triggered by menopause, birth, or menstruation, talk with your ob-gyn. Lifestyle modifications like turning down the temperature and wearing loose clothing can help reduce discomfort, but medications and hormone therapy can also be prescribed by a healthcare professional, Dr. Purdie says.
Rest and hydration can help treat cold sweats that are caused by illness or fever, according to Dr. Ungerleider. If you have an infection, antibiotics may also be necessary, she adds.
Lastly, always talk with your doctor if your cold sweats become persistent or problematic, because it’s important to address underlying health issues and concerns.