What causes sweating?

There are many causes of sweating that range from mild to serious.

Psychological causes of sweating

Physiological causes of sweating include:

  • Anxiety and anxiety disorders
  • Fear
  • Nervousness
  • Panic attack or panic disorders
  • Remembering a traumatic event
  • Stress

Causes of sweating related to substances

Sweating may be caused by a variety of medications and substances including:

  • Alcohol
  • Coffee or any product containing caffeine
  • Medications to treat mental disorders, fever, or thyroid disease
  • Morphine
  • Spicy foods
  • Stimulant drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine
  • Toxins such as nerve gas and certain insecticides

Other causes of sweating

Other causes of sweating include:

  • Cancer
  • Exercise
  • Fever
  • Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)
  • Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)
  • Infection
  • Menopause
  • Tuberculosis
  • Warm or humid environment

Serious or life-threatening causes of sweating

In some cases, sweating may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These conditions include myocardial infarction (heart attack).

Certain cancers such as lymphomas can cause abnormal sweating, chiefly at night, along with fever and other symptoms.

Questions for diagnosing the cause of sweating

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your sweating including:

  • How long have you been experiencing abnormal sweating?
  • Where on your body does the sweating occur?
  • Does your sweating correspond to certain events or times of day?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?
  • What medications are you taking?

What are the potential complications of sweating?

Sweating is rarely associated with serious diseases. But because abnormal sweating can accompany some serious conditions, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:

  • Adverse effects of treatment
  • Brain damage
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Diminished overall quality of life
  • Embarrassment
  • Heart failure
  • Progression of symptoms
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Seizures and tremors
  • Social isolation
  • Spread of cancer
  • Spread of infection
  • Unconsciousness and coma


    1. Sweating. MedlinePlus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003218.htm.
    2. Hyperhidrosis. MedlinePlus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/007259.htm.
    3. Mold JW, Lawler F. The prognostic implications of night sweats in two cohorts of older patients. J Am Board Fam Med 2010; 23:97.
    4. Kahan S, Miller R, Smith EG (Eds.). In A Page Signs & Symptoms, 2d ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Williams & Williams, 2009.
    5. Walling HW, Swick BL. Treatment options for hyperhidrosis. Am J Clin Dermatology. 2011; 12:285-95.
    6. Vorkamp T, Foo FJ, et al. Hyperhidrosis: evolving concepts and a comprehensive review. Surgeon. 2010; 8:287-92.

    What is sweating?

    Sweating occurs when the sweat glands in your skin secrete a salty fluid called sweat, or perspiration. Sweating is a normal function that serves to cool your body, often in hot or humid environments or when you exercise.

    Excessive sweating may be a symptom of an underlying disease, disorder or condition. The medical term for excessive sweating is hyperhidrosis. Hyperthyroidism (o... Read more about sweatingintroduction


    What other symptoms might occur with sweating?

    Sweating may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Causes of sweating may also involve other body systems.

    Common symptoms that may occur along with sweating

    Sweating may accompany symptoms related to other body systems including:

    Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Sep 30, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

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