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



Diabetes insipidus


  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.
  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?

When should I seriously consider active tuberculosis (TB) in my newly-admitted HIV-negative patient with a cough?

Active TB should be suspected based on a combination of epidemiological (eg, exposure, travel to, or residence in a high prevalence area, history of prior TB), clinical (eg, cough lasting 2-3 weeks or longer, fever, night sweats, weight loss, fatigue, less commonly, chest pain, dyspnea, and hemoptysis), chest radiograph abnormalities (eg, infiltrates, fibrosis, cavitation), and histopathologic (eg, caseating granuloma)1.

Among HIV-negative patients, the highest prevalence of TB is found those who have been incarcerated, use intravenous drugs, have alcohol use disorder, or are immunocompromised (including diabetes mellitus)2,3

Patients suspected of TB based on clinical criteria should undergo chest radiography.  Reactivation pulmonary TB (~90% of TB in adults) classically presents with upper lobe and/or the superior segment of the lower lobe disease.  Remember that up to 5% of patients with active pulmonary TB have normal chest radiograph, however4.  

All hospitalized patients suspected of having active TB should be placed on appropriate isolation precautions until TB is excluded.

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  1. Sia IG, Wieland ML. Current concepts in the management of tuberculosis. Mayo Clin Proc. 2011;86:348-361.
  2. Center for Disease Control. Tuberculosis: Data and Statistics. Accessed October 3, 2016.
  3. World Health Organization. Tuberculosis. factsheets/fs104/en/. Accessed October 3, 2016.
  4. Marciniuk, D, McNab, BD, Martin WT, Hoeppner, VH. Detection of pulmonary tuberculosis in patients with a normal chest radiograph. Chest 1999;115:445-452.



Contributed by Charles C. Jain MD, Medical Resident, Massachusetts General Hospital


When should I seriously consider active tuberculosis (TB) in my newly-admitted HIV-negative patient with a cough?