What Are Cold Sweats?

Cold sweats are not an actual medical diagnosis. Instead, cold sweats are a symptom of an underlying health conditions.

Sometimes, the body can experience "cold sweats," Erik Blutinger, MD, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, told Health. Cold sweats, which can occur with or without a fever, are when you are cold and sweaty at the same time. 

"Cold sweats are a bit of a medical mystery," said Dr. Blutinger. "They involve a lot of complicated parts of the human body."

However, cold sweats are not an actual medical diagnosis. Instead, cold sweats can be a symptom of several health conditions. 

What Are Cold Sweats?

Sweat is a normal bodily function. You sweat when your body gets too hot and needs to cool down (e.g., when it's warm outside, when you exercise, or even when you're anxious, nervous, or afraid).

Typically, "sweating is your body's response to various internal and external stressors," Arindam Sarkar, MD, an assistant professor of family and community medicine at Baylor University, told Health. "Normal sweating cools your body through evaporation and occurs in response to excess warmth or exertion."

However, cold sweats are slightly different than normal sweating. Cold sweats begin when you sweat so much that the moisture on your skin makes you feel cold, noted Dr. Boling. Cold sweats include chills or night sweats. Also, cold sweats can occur in response to a health condition, like heart disease. In other cases, cold sweats can happen as a side effect to medications, like Lexapro (escitalopram).

Generally, experts agree that cold sweats are when you start sweating but feel chilly. Cold sweats differ from normal sweating, in which you perspire and feel normal.

Cold Sweats Symptoms

Cold sweats cause different symptoms, depending on what the underlying cause is. 

Generally, sweating occurs on your arms, feet, and palms. Your body releases sweat, made up of water, ammonia, urea, salt, and sugar, through the pores on your skin. Then, your sweat evaporates and cools your body down. Cold sweats happen if you become chilly during that process.

What Causes Cold Sweats?

Cold sweats are not an actual medical diagnosis. Instead, cold sweats can be a symptom of an underlying health condition, Kathryn Boling, MD, a family medicine specialist based in Maryland, told Health

Therefore, cold sweats have several different causes. For example, cold sweats can be a normal occurrence that happens after exercise or due to menopause. In other cases, cold sweats can point to several health conditions, ranging from minor to severe.


You can even get cold sweats when you exercise or just wrap up a workout session, David Cutler, MD, a family medicine specialist at Providence Saint John's Health Center, told Health

"If you've been sweating and then you suddenly cool off or go out into cold weather, that can cause cold sweats," said Dr. Cutler. 


Feelings of stress or anxiety can also lead to cold sweats. Your body reacts to stress by activating your "fight-or-flight" response. Like adrenaline and cortisol, hormones elevate and cause high blood pressure, rapid heart rate, and quickened breathing. As a result, you may also develop cold sweats.

Hormone Changes

During menopause, the body gradually makes less estrogen and progesterone. The changing hormones cause various symptoms, such as hot flashes. Hot flashes cause your body to feel very warm suddenly. Also, your skin may flush, and red patches may appear. 

After a hot flash, you may have cold sweats. Hot flashes may cause so much sweating and shivering that you wake up in the middle of the night.

Cold sweats can also signify other hormonal changes, like having your hormone levels readjust after pregnancy, said Dr. Boling.

Low Blood Sugar

Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, can happen after exercise, not eating enough food, or drinking alcohol. Also, some people with diabetes may have low blood sugar as a side effect of treatment. 

In addition to pale skin, headache, and weakness, low blood sugar can cause cold sweats. Sometimes, people wake up in a cold sweat if their blood sugar levels drop overnight.


Having a viral infection could cause a fever that leads to cold sweats. For example, cold sweats can be a symptom of the flu. Similarly, some evidence suggests that cold sweats may occur with severe cases of COVID-19. Also, skin infections, such as erysipelas and cellulitis, may cause cold sweats.

According to Dr. Boling, people typically develop cold sweats when their fever starts to break.

"You can be in a situation where you've been hot because of the fever, it breaks, and then you sweat and feel chilled," added Dr. Boling.

Heart Disease

Cold sweats are one of the symptoms of coronary artery disease, one of the most common causes of heart disease. Also, cold sweats can be a symptom of a heart attack. If you have cold sweats, chest or upper body discomfort, nausea, or lightheadedness, seek immediate medical attention.

How Are Cold Sweats Diagnosed?

A healthcare provider will likely try to determine the underlying cause of your cold sweats. They may physically examine you, take your temperature, or order blood tests to rule out various health conditions. A healthcare provider may also ask about your personal and family health history.

So, for example, if you have a fever, your cold sweats may be due to an infection. In contrast, hypoglycemia could be the culprit if a blood test shows that you have low blood sugar. Also, if you report feeling stressed lately, your "fight-or-flight" may be causing cold sweats.

Treatments for Cold Sweats

"Treatment for cold sweats is based entirely on the underlying cause," Laura Miller, MD, a family medicine specialist at the University of Minnesota Medical School, told Health. So, pay attention to any other symptoms you have. Write them down, even if you don't think you're experiencing a medical emergency, added Dr. Miller.

If you have a fever, "it's not uncommon to remove a layer and then put it back on again" if you feel cold again, noted Dr. Gulati. Generally, you can put on layers and adjust them until you feel comfortable. 

Take fever-reducing medicine like Tylenol (acetaminophen) if you have a fever. A fever may indicate a viral infection, like the flu or COVID-19. In that case, consult a healthcare provider.

How To Prevent Cold Sweats

Like treatments for cold sweats, preventing them depends on the underlying cause. For example, one of the best ways to prevent infections is proper handwashing.

Or if you frequently have low blood sugar causing cold sweats, check your blood sugar levels, especially while exercising. Keep snacks handy in case your blood sugar lowers. Also, if you often feel stressed, try stress-relieving activities like deep breathing to help relax your body.

Other causes of cold sweats may be hard to prevent. For example, with menopause, you may be unable to avoid hot flashes and cold sweats. Still, you can take steps to make yourself comfortable during those times. Keep a fan on or wear light, loose-fitting clothing while sleeping.

Also, if you have cold sweats alongside heart attack symptoms, like chest pain and shortness of breath, consult a healthcare provider right away.

When To Consult a Healthcare Provider

Consult a healthcare provider if the following symptoms accompany your cold sweats:

  • Feeling confused
  • Pain or discomfort in your chest, abdomen, or back
  • Headaches
  • Blood in your stool
  • Recurrent vomiting, especially if there's blood in your vomit
  • Trouble breathing
  • Signs of shock, like clammy and pale skin

Also, remember that cold sweats can be a heart attack symptom. So, pay attention if chest discomfort, nausea, or lightheadedness accompanies your cold sweats. If you have any of those symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.

Finally, if you regularly have cold sweats, talk to a healthcare provider. For the most part, cold sweats should resolve as you treat the underlying cause, like stress or a viral infection. 

A Quick Review

Cold sweats happen if you become chilly while sweating. Your skin may become pale, moist, and clammy. However, cold sweats are not an actual medical diagnosis. Instead, cold sweats are a symptom of an underlying health condition, like menopause, stress, infections, or low blood sugar. In severe cases, cold sweats may signal or heart attack or shock. 

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