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Leukemia and Night Sweats

Posted on November 14, 2019
Medically reviewed by
Todd Gersten, M.D.
Article written by
Laurie Berger

Are night sweats keeping you up? You’re not alone. Members of MyLeukemiaTeam talk about the nocturnal “drenching” they experience, and how they cope with it.

“It feels like someone dumped a gallon of water on me,” shared one member. “I have an internal heater that’s on full blast,” added another. One woman “changes nightgowns in the middle of the night.” Another sleeps with “a darn bath towel to soak up the water. It’s miserable.”

What Causes Leukemia Night Sweats?

Night sweats can be a symptom of leukemia or a side effect of treatment for the blood cancer. They occur when the body “turns up the heat” to fight cancer or an infection.

Chemotherapy can also raise body temperature. Other medications, such as opioids, steroids, and antidepressants, which may be prescribed to offset side effects of leukemia treatment - or for a separate condition - can also cause night sweats.

Excessive night sweating is often accompanied by chills. “I keep a lot of T-shirts within reach because when they’re soaked, things cool off and I get cold,” explained one member of MyLeukemiaTeam.

Sign of Trouble Before Diagnosis

Sweating is the body’s natural way of cooling itself. Excessive night sweating - that’s not due to an overheated room or too many blankets - can be a sign of illness. In a survey of 2,000 people with leukemia, 31 percent reported night sweats as a major symptom prior to diagnosis

“Severe sweating is what sent me to the doctor. He did extensive blood testing and it turned out to be Chronic Lymphocytic Leukemia (CLL),” explained one member. “This site made me realize that my extreme sweating may be a symptom of leukemia, as well,” added another member of MyLeukemiaTeam.

Night sweats can often be interpreted as symptoms of other conditions – such as menopause, hyperhidrosis, hypothyroidism, and hypoglycemia.

“I had drenching sweats for a year before diagnosis. I thought my hot flashes had returned,” said one woman who was eventually diagnosed with leukemia. “I was sweating every night,” said another member. “I thought it was menopause. Nope. Sweating is a warning that something is wrong. My something was CLL.”

Leukemia Night Sweats During Treatment

Members of MyLeukemiaTeam say night sweats are among the most disturbing side effects of leukemia treatment.

“I have chronic myeloid leukemia (CML) and I’m on Tasigna (Nilotinib). I sweat all the time and go through towels all day long,” said one woman on MyLeukemiaTeam.

Another wrote: “I think it’s my meds. By day two of treatment, I can barely sleep.” One man who “tosses, turns, and is wide awake till 4 a.m. every night,” agreed. “I know a lot has to do with my meds. Anyone found something that works for sleep?”

For some members, night sweats decreased or stopped after being on treatment for a while.

“I was diagnosed with CML almost three years ago. Night sweats were one of my symptoms. My body is finally settling down and adjusting to these powerful drugs that keep us alive,” shared one MyLeukemiaTeam member. Another member’s doctor switched her medication. “Started Sprycel (Dasatinib) a week ago. Doctor is hoping it will help with the sweating issues.”

Other members of MyLeukemiaTeam say they haven’t been affected by night sweats at all. “My doctor asked if I was getting night sweats and I told her, ‘Not yet,’” said one woman. Another member diagnosed in 2004 agreed: “I’ve not had night sweats either.”

If you are regularly experiencing night sweats, ask your doctor for a full medical examination to determine the cause and rule out any underlying issues.

Tips for Staying Cool and Dry

Members of MyLeukemiaTeam share their tips for managing night sweats:

Good sleep hygiene. One member makes sure he’s really tired before going to bed. “And no caffeine after dinner for me.” Another bought a special fan for his bed, and “sleeps with an ice pack on my neck.”

Fresh juices. “Drinking celery juice – yuck, not my favorite - and tart cherry juice seems to help me sleep. I don’t know why but it does,” explained one man.

The International Hyperhidrosis Society offers general tips for managing night sweats, including sipping ice water throughout the night, keeping a cool pack under your pillow, meditating or doing gentle yoga before bed, and using sheets made from cotton or fabrics that wick away moisture.

Find Support

On MyLeukemiaTeam, the social network and online support group for those living with leukemia, members talk about a range of personal experiences and struggles including night sweats.

Do you experience night sweats? Share your thoughts and experiences below in the comments. You can also join or log in and post on MyLeukemiaTeam to start the conversation.

Todd Gersten, M.D. is a hematologist-oncologist at the Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute in Wellington, Florida. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Laurie Berger has been a health care writer, reporter, and editor for the past 14 years. Learn more about her here.

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