What Causes Cold Sweats and What Can You Do About It?

Medically reviewed by Elaine K. Luo, MD on July 12, 2017Written by Tim Jewell on July 12, 2017

Are cold sweats the same as night sweats?

Cold sweats happen when you suddenly feel a chill in your body that occurs alongside abnormal sweating, regardless of how hot or cold it is in your environment.

Cold sweats commonly appear in your:

  • palms
  • armpits
  • soles

Unlike normal sweating, cold sweats aren’t a result of heavy exercise or high temperatures. They’re also different from night sweats.

With night sweats, you’ll often wake up in the middle of the night with a layer of sweat all over your body, and your clothes, sheets, and blankets might feel damp or wet. Night sweats happen only while you’re sleeping.

Cold sweats usually don’t happen across your entire body and aren’t limited to when you’re in bed or sleeping at night.

What causes cold sweats?

Cold sweats can be caused by a variety of different conditions. They’re often associated with your body’s “fight or flight” response. This happens when your body prepares itself to either run away or to get hurt.

They’re also common to conditions that prevent oxygen or blood from circulating throughout your body.

Keep reading to learn more.

Shock

Shock happens when your body reacts to extreme environmental conditions or severe injury. When your body goes into shock, your organs don’t receive as much as oxygen or blood as they need to function. If your body stays in a state of shock for too long, your organs can be harmed. In some cases, shock can be fatal if untreated.

Other symptoms include:

  • abnormally pale skin
  • rapid breathing
  • abnormally high pulse
  • feeling sick or throwing up
  • abnormally large (dilated) pupils
  • feeling weak or exhausted
  • feeling dizzy
  • abnormal anxiety or feelings of stress

Infection or sepsis

Infections can be caused by bacteria or viruses attacking your body’s tissues. In many cases, infections cause your tissues to become inflamed as your immune system tries to fight off the infection.

Sepsis happens when your immune system responds to a serious bacterial or viral infection in your abdomen, lungs, urinary system, or other major bodily tissues. With sepsis, inflammation can happen across your entire body. This can cause your blood to clot or to spill out of your blood vessels. This makes it harder for your organs to get fresh blood and oxygen, which can cause cold sweats.

Sepsis can be life-threatening. Seek emergency medical help right away if you have cold sweats with any of the following symptoms:

  • high fever
  • coldness and shivering
  • confusion or disorientation
  • rapid breathing
  • abnormally high pulse
  • difficulty breathing
  • loss of consciousness

Nausea or vertigo

Nausea is simply feeling like you’re sick and going to throw up, although you may not always throw up when you feel nauseous. Nausea can be caused by many things, such as by eating too much or from taking certain medications.

Vertigo is dizziness that results from feeling like the room around you is moving when it actually isn’t. It’s often caused by issues with your inner ear and its connections to the brain.

See your doctor if you notice any other common symptoms of vertigo, including:

  • twitchy eye movement (nystagmus)
  • blurry vision (diplopia)
  • difficulty walking
  • weakness or abnormal numbness
  • ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
  • difficulty speaking or slurring your speech

Fainting

Fainting (syncope) happens when you don’t get enough oxygen to your brain. Cold sweats can occur right before or after you pass out.

Fainting because of brain oxygen loss can happen for a number of reasons, including:

  • being dehydrated
  • getting too hot or sweating too much due to exercise or external temperature
  • blood not flowing out of your legs quickly enough (pooling)
  • being overly exhausted
  • having certain heart conditions that cause your heart to beat too fast or too slowly

See your doctor right away if you think a heart condition may be causing you to faint.

Intense pain from injury

Pain caused by an injury, such as from breaking a bone or getting hit in the head, can cause cold sweats, similar to the way shock can cause sweating as your organs don’t get enough oxygen.

Taking pain medication, such as a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drug like ibuprofen (Advil), can help relieve intense pain and stop cold sweats. Talk to your doctor before taking NSAIDs to make sure they’re a safe option for you.

Stress or anxiety

Stress or anxiety caused by overwhelming responsibilities at home, at work, or at school can trigger cold sweats.

Other symptoms can include:

  • unexplained pain
  • vomiting
  • tense muscles

These effects are a result of the stress that anxiety puts on the body, which can keep oxygen from getting to your brain or other organs.

Having an anxiety disorder can disrupt your life and cause long-term health effects. See your doctor if you believe you may have an anxiety disorder. They may refer you to a therapist or psychiatrist to assess the cause of your stress or anxiety.

Migraines

A migraine is a type of headache that can cause severe pain for an extended period of time. Cold sweats usually happen during a migraine as your body responds to the pain.

Migraines can be debilitating and interrupt your life. See your doctor if your migraines keep you from doing daily tasks or if you notice any of the following symptoms:

  • having trouble speaking
  • having blurry vision or loss of vision
  • feeling numb or weak on one side of your body
  • hearing sounds that aren’t real
  • feeling extremely sensitive to sound or light
  • feeling dizzy, confused, or disoriented

Hypoxia

Hypoxia means that not enough oxygen is getting to the organs in your body. This can be caused by not breathing in enough oxygen. This can happen when you breathe in smoke or go to high altitudes where the air supply is decreased.

When your brain doesn’t get enough oxygen, it’s called cerebral hypoxia. Because your brain is deprived of oxygen, your body responds in cold sweats and other mental symptoms, such as:

  • having trouble walking or controlling other body movements
  • having trouble paying attention
  • losing your judgmental abilities
  • having difficulty breathing

Severe hypoxia can cause you to lose consciousness or go into a coma. Seek emergency medical help right away if hypoxia has caused you to lose control over your body or feel like passing out.

Hypotension

Hypotension happens when your blood pressure drops to much lower levels than normal. Low blood pressure is normal when you sleep or are doing little activity, but hypotension can be serious when it causes the brain or your other organs not to get enough oxygen.

Other common symptoms of hypotension include:

  • feeling dizzy or confused
  • having blurry vision
  • passing out without warning
  • feeling exhausted
  • feeling nauseous

Your body can go into shock if your blood pressure drops low enough. Seek emergency medical help right away if this happens.

Menopause

Menopause happens when your body’s balance of two hormones, estrogen and progesterone, changes dramatically and your menstrual cycle ends.

Along with sudden hot flashes, cold sweats are among the most noticeable physical symptoms of menopause.

Other common symptoms of menopause include:

  • experiencing changes in your menstrual cycle
  • having trouble controlling your urination
  • having trouble sleeping
  • experiencing changes in your moods or mental state
  • gaining weight
  • feeling less pleasure during sex due to vaginal dryness or hormone changes

Hyperhidrosis

Hyperhidrosis is another name for excessive sweating. Hyperhidrosis can happen when you sweat because of exercise or heat, but frequent cold sweats with hyperhidrosis can also happen without warning.

Hyperhidrosis isn’t usually a cause for concern, especially if it happens without any other symptoms. It can be passed down in families, so it may simply be caused by your genes and not an underlying health condition. If hyperhidrosis is disrupting your life, see your doctor.

Hypoglycemia

With hypoglycemia, your blood sugar drops below normal levels. Your body reacts to a lack of blood sugar similarly to a lack of oxygen.

If you have diabetes, seek emergency medical help right away to restore your blood’s glucose levels. Eating or drinking sugary foods and beverages, such as a meal replacement bar or fruit juice, can also help restore blood sugar in a short amount of time.

Is it a heart attack?

Cold sweats can be one of the first signs of a heart attack. Seek emergency medical help right away if you suddenly have a cold sweat along with any of the following symptoms:

  • discomfort or pain in your chest that feels like pulling, squeezing, or bloating
  • difficulty breathing
  • discomfort or pain in your neck, jaw, stomach, or back
  • dizziness or lightheadedness
  • a feeling that you’re going to pass out

Treatment options

Treatment depends on what’s causing your cold sweats. Drinking plenty of water throughout the day can keep you from getting dehydrated. Getting regular exercise and avoiding habits such as smoking or drinking excessive alcohol can prevent cold sweats.

In some cases where your oxygen supply is low, taking deep breaths can help restore your blood’s oxygen supply. Meditation and relaxation techniques can help calm anxiety or stress and help you get your breath back. You can meditate anywhere, and these positions can help guide practice at all levels.

Underlying conditions can be managed with medications, including:

  • prescription antiperspirants
  • nerve blockers that stop your nerves from telling your brain to induce sweating
  • antidepressants
  • Botox injections, which can also block nerves that tell your brain to induce sweating

When to see your doctor

If your body goes into shock, becomes infected, or gets seriously injured, emergency medical attention is necessary to prevent any long-term damage. You should also seek emergency medical attention if you think you’re experiencing a heart attack.

You should also see your doctor if you:

  • have bluish discoloration of your nails or lips
  • feel tightness in your throat
  • feel significantly less alert than usual
  • throw up blood or pass blood when you have a bowel movement

If your cold sweats are caused by an underlying condition, such as anxiety or menopause, your doctor can work with you to develop a symptom management plan. They’re your best resource for more information about what to expect and how to cope with any symptoms you’re experiencing.

CMS Id: 124668