My middle age patient complains of night sweats for several months, but she has had no weight loss and does not appear ill. What could I be missing?

Night sweats (NS) is a common patient complaint, affecting about a third of hospitalized patients on medical wards1.  Despite its long list of potential causes, direct relationship between the often- cited conditions and NS is usually unclear2, its cause may remain elusive In about a third to half of cases in the primary care setting, and its prognosis, at least in those >65 y of age, does not appear to be unfavorable 2,3.

Selected commonly and less frequently cited conditions associated with NS are listed (Table)2-9.  Although tuberculosis is one of the first conditions we think of when faced with a patient with NS, it should be emphasized that NS is not common in this disease (unless advanced) and is rare among hospitalized patients as a cause of their NS1,9.

In one of the larger study of adult patients seen in primary care setting, 23% reported pure NS and an additional 18% reported night and day sweats5; the prevalence of NS in both men and women was highest in 41-55 y age group. In multivariate analyses, factors associated with pure NS in women were hot flashes and panic attacks; in men, sleep disorders. 

Table. Selected causes of night sweats

Commonly cited Less frequently cited
Neoplastic/hematologic (eg, lymphoma, leukemia, myelofibrosis)

Infections (eg, HIV, tuberculosis, endocarditis)

Endocrine (eg, ovarian failure, hyperthyroidism, orchiectomy, carcinoid tumor, diabetes mellitus [nocturnal hypoglycemia], pheochromocytoma)

Rheumatologic (eg, giant cell arteritis)

Gastroesophageal reflux disease

B-12 deficiency

Pulmonary embolism

Drugs (eg, anti-depressants, SSRIs, donepezil [Aricept], tacatuzumab)

Sleep disturbances (eg, obstructive sleep apnea)

Panic attacks/anxiety disorder

Obesity

Hemachromatosis

Diabetes insipidus

References

  1. Lea MJ, Aber RC, Descriptive epidemiology of night sweats upon admission to a university hospital. South Med J 1985;78:1065-67.
  2. Mold JW, Holtzclaw BJ, McCarthy L. Night sweats: A systematic review of the literature. J Am Board Fam Med 2012; 25-878-893.
  3. Mold JW, Lawler F. The prognostic implications of night sweats in two cohorts of older patients. J Am Board Fam Med 2010;23:97-103.
  4. Mold JW, Holtzclaw BJ. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and night sweats in a primary care population. Drugs-Real World Outcomes 2015;2:29-33.
  5. Mold JW, Mathew MK, Belgore S, et al. Prevalence of night sweats in primary care patients: An OKPRN and TAFP-Net collaborative study. J Fam Pract 2002; 31:452-56.
  6. Feher A, Muhsin SA, Maw AM. Night sweats as a prominent symptom of a patient presenting with pulmonary embolism. Case reports in Pulmonology 2015. http://dx.doi.org/10.1155/2015/841272
  7. Rehman HU. Vitamin B12 deficiency causing night sweats. Scottish Med J 2014;59:e8-11.
  8. Murday HK, Rusli FD, Blandy C, et al. Night sweats: it may be hemochromatosis. Climacteric 2016;19:406-8.
  9. Fred HL. Night sweats. Hosp Pract 1993 (Aug 15):88.
My middle age patient complains of night sweats for several months, but she has had no weight loss and does not appear ill. What could I be missing?

What is the utility of bedside skin-fold test in diagnosing Cushing’s syndrome?

Skin atrophy is a common feature of Cushing’s syndrome (CS), a hypercortisol state,  with multiple studies reporting radiographic evidence of reduced skin thickness in this condition1,2.

Measurement of skin thickness on the dorsal aspect of the 2nd or 3rd proximal phalanges on the non-dominant hand by using ECG calipers to pinch together a fold of skin has also been reported to assess skin atrophy in CS, with thickness less than 18 mm correlating strongly with CS3,4; the minimal subcutaneous fat at this location allows for a more accurate measurement of skin thickness.

However, caution should be exercised in interpreting the results of this study. Specifically, some overlap was observed between normal controls and patients with CS.  In addition, the study population was limited to women of reproductive age presenting with oligomenorrhea and hirsutism for at least 2 years, a subset of patients that may account for only 40% of cases with CS5,6.  Further studies are clearly needed to determine the clinical utility of the skin-fold test in patients suspected of CS.

References

  1. Sheppard RH, Meema HE. Skin thickness in endocrine disease. A roentgenographic study. Ann Intern Med 1967;66:531-9.
  2. Ferguson JK, Donald RA, Weston TS, et al. Skin thickness in patients with acromegaly and Cushing’s syndrome and response to treatment. Clin Endocrinol (Oxf) 1983;18:347-53.
  3. Corenblum B, Kwan T, Gee S, et al. Bedside assessment of skin-fold thickness: A useful measurement for distinguishing Cushing’s disease from other causes of hirsutism and oligomenorrhea. Arch Intern Med. 1994;154:777-781.
  4. Loriaux DL. Diagnosis and differential diagnosis of Cushing’s syndrome. N Engl J Med 2017;376:1451-9.
  5. Lindholm J, Juul S, Jorgensen JOL, et al: Incidence and late prognosis of Cushing’s syndrome: a population-based study. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2001;86:117–123.
  6. Lado-Abeal J, Rodriguez-Arnao J, Newell-Price JD, et al. Menstrual abnormalities in women with Cushing’s disease are correlated with hypercortisolemia rather than raised circulating androgen levels. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 1998;83:3083-8.

Contributed by Sagar Raju, Medical Student, Harvard Medical School

What is the utility of bedside skin-fold test in diagnosing Cushing’s syndrome?