This Is The Biggest Sign That Your Cold Sweats Are an Emergency

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Signs That Cold Sweats Are an Emergency Marco VDM - Getty Images

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SWEATING AFTER AN INTENSE WORKOUT is completely normal. So is being drenched with sweat after spending time outside on a hot, humid day. But, you’ve probably also broken out into a sweat when you’re not over-exerting or feeling warm.

These cold sweats can occur when you’re nauseous or feeling anxious, and could signal a serious health problem.

Everyone sweats—some people sweat more than others. Your body is covered in sweat glands, and sweating is the body’s natural response to regulate temperature and remove toxins. It usually occurs in response to heat or stress.

Sweating when you’re hot helps your body cool off. The cooling effect happens when the sweat is evaporated from the skin, which removes heat from your body. Sweating is also a common response to stress. The body’s “fight or flight” mode can trigger a release of adrenaline, which causes you to sweat.

“When we talk about cold sweats, most people know this is a different phenomenon from routine sweating from heat or exertion,” says Frank Contacessa, MD, an internal medicine physician at MDVIP in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida. “Its causes can range from completely benign to absolutely deadly.”

Cold sweats can be caused by a number of factors—anxiety, pain, hormonal fluctuations, low blood sugar, or infections, he says.

On the serious side, cold sweats can signal a condition, like cancer, especially when you’re sweating at night. Sudden sweating can also be one of the first signs of a heart attack.

So, what exactly are cold sweats, what causes them, and when should you worry? We asked doctors to explain.

What Are Cold Sweats?

Sweating is an important bodily function. It’s the main way the body regulates its temperature. When water, salt, other minerals, and toxins are released from sweat glands, it’s evaporated from the skin’s surface, which cools off the body. If you didn’t sweat, your body would overheat, and you could potentially die. So, sweating is very important!

But, sweating can happen when you’re not feeling hot, which brings us to cold sweats.

The technical name for cold sweats is diaphoresis, and it happens when your body sweats without heat or physical activity, says Sarita Salzberg, MD, a physician with virtual health platform PlushCare.

“When we sweat normally, our body is trying to cool itself down,” she says. “However, cold sweats often occur when we are in fight or flight mode, and our adrenaline kicks in, activating a physical response.”

Cold sweats can be caused by a number of external or internal factors, like stress or illness. Dr. Salzberg says they’re usually nothing to worry about, though.

Still, you should pay attention to how often they happen and any other symptoms you’re also experiencing, she explains. “Cold sweats can also be a sign of your body telling you something is wrong, and in some cases, it can signal a medical emergency.”

What Do Cold Sweats Feel Like?

You’ve likely experienced cold sweats when you’re feeling stressed or nauseous. Cold sweats most often appear on your palms, armpits, and the soles of your feet.

“Cold sweat symptoms usually include fatigue, chills, and swollen lymph nodes,” Dr. Salzberg says.

But, if you have these symptoms along with cold sweats, she says it’s time to call your doctor:

  • High fever

  • Coldness and shivering

  • Confusion or disorientation

  • Rapid breathing

  • Abnormally high pulse

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Loss of consciousness

What Causes Cold Sweats?

Several factors can cause cold sweats—sometimes it’s nothing to worry about, while other times you should be very concerned.

The best way to know is to understand your sweating style. Do you sweat a lot in general? Do you always sweat when you’re nervous? If you’re not someone who’s particularly sweaty, breaking out into a sudden cold sweat is something to pay attention to.

Here are some common causes of cold sweats:


Some people sweat excessively all the time, even when they’re not exercising or even feeling warm. This could be a condition called hyperhidrosis, which is when your sweat glands overreact and produce excess sweat at inopportune times. Sweating might occur all over your body or in specific spots, like your palms, feet, face, or armpits. There’s no cure for the condition, but it can be treated with medications or special antiperspirants.

Stress and anxiety

Everyone deals with stress, and sweating can be a side effect. Cold sweats might also be a response to a specific stressful situation, like public speaking or a job interview. The body’s fight or flight response triggers the release of adrenaline, which activates your sweat glands. Dr. Salzberg says finding ways to reduce stress in your life, such as by journaling or making time for activities you enjoy, is just as good for your physical health as it is for your mental health.


When you’re feeling sick to your stomach, your nervous system raises your heart rate, which can make you sweat. Usually, your cold sweats will go away after you throw up or once your nausea passes. But, if you experience blurry vision, weakness, or difficulty walking or speaking, too, contact your doctor.


Medications can come with a range of side effects, and cold sweating is one of them. Research shows that sweating can be triggered by a number of different medications, including antidepressants, hypoglycemic agents, SSRIs, opioids, and hormone-blocking drugs.

Hormonal changes

Changes in hormonal levels, such as low testosterone levels, can interfere with the body’s temperature regulation and cause sweating. Hot flashes and sweating are also common during menopause.


Infections, which may be caused by bacteria or a virus, trigger your immune system to fight. This can cause sweating. Pneumonia, the flu, Covid-19, tuberculosis, mononucleosis, and HIV are infections that might increase sweating. Contact your doctor if you also have a high fever, difficulty breathing, or a high heart rate.


Whether you have a cold, stomach bug, or other illness, having a fever is a natural response, and it’ll likely make you sweat, while also feeling chilly. Research shows that fever causes your body temperature to fluctuate, and that’s why you sweat.


Extreme pain, of any kind, can trigger cold sweating, Dr. Contacessa says. If you break a bone or get hit in the head, your organs may not get the oxygen they need as your body deals with the pain. This can cause you to sweat. The sweating can increase if your body goes into shock as a result. Stopping the pain will usually help stop the cold sweats.

Certain cancers

Some types of cancer are linked to sweating, especially when it occurs while you sleep, Dr. Contacessa says. Lymphoma, leukemia, prostate cancer, bone cancer, and liver cancer are associated with sweating. “If it’s happening every night for more than a few days, you should see your doctor to evaluate for certain kinds of cancer,” he says.

Low blood sugar

Low blood sugar, also known as hypoglycemia, happens when your blood sugar drops, and one of the ways the body reacts is by sweating, Dr. Contacessa says. Cold sweats may be especially common with diabetes, as research shows that type 1 and 2 diabetes make it difficult for the body to regulate its temperature.

Heart attack

A sudden bout of sweating can be one of the first signs of a heart attack, and it’s often overlooked. “When experiencing cold sweats with a heart attack, you will most likely feel other symptoms,” Dr. Salzberg says. These include dizziness, difficulty breathing, or discomfort in the back, neck, jaw, or stomach. You’ll also feel chest pain or discomfort that feels like pulling or squeezing. If you have any of these symptoms, go to the emergency room immediately.

When Should You Worry About Your Cold Sweats?

When you have cold sweats, always pay attention to other symptoms you’re experiencing at the same time, Dr. Salzberg says.

“The key to knowing when to worry is to look at the whole picture of what’s going on,” Dr. Contacessa says. “The sweats occurring without any other symptoms or factors is usually benign. It could be stress or hormonal. If the cold sweats occur along with other symptoms or risk factors, then you should consider getting further evaluation or care.”

Cold sweats that happen all the time or come along with fever, a rapid pulse, chest pain, difficulty breathing, or dizziness are signs that you should call your doctor.

How Are Cold Sweats Treated?

There’s no specific treatment for cold sweats on their own, Dr. Contacessa says. Instead, doctors will examine you, do blood work, and maybe a few other tests to find out what’s causing the cold sweats, and treat the cause.

“The bottom line is to be smart and listen to your body,” he says. “If the sweats happen repeatedly or along with other signs like chest pain, shortness of breath, or dizziness, you should get help as soon as possible.”

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