Persistent Night Sweats: Diagnostic Evaluation

Carl Bryce
American Family Physician 2020 October 1, 102 (7): 427-433
Night sweats are a nonspecific symptom that patients commonly experience but rarely discuss with their physicians without prompting. Although many life-threatening causes such as malignancies or infections have been described, most patients who report persistent night sweats in the primary care setting do not have a serious underlying disorder. Conditions commonly associated with night sweats include menopause, mood disorders, gastroesophageal reflux disease, hyperthyroidism, and obesity. If a clinical diagnosis is apparent based on the initial history and physical examination, specific treatment for four to eight weeks may be offered. When the history and physical examination do not reveal a specific cause, physicians should proceed with a systematic and cost-conscious strategy that uses readily available laboratory and imaging studies, such as a complete blood count, tuberculosis testing, thyroid-stimulating hormone levels, HIV testing, C-reactive protein level, and chest radiography. Additional tests that could be considered selectively include computed tomography of the chest and/or abdomen, bone marrow biopsy, polysomnography, and/or additional laboratory studies if indicated. If these results are normal, and no additional disorders are suspected, reassurance and continued monitoring are recommended. The presence of night sweats alone does not indicate an increased risk of death.

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