The thyroid gland is a small organ that lies along the midline of the throat and wraps around the windpipe to form a butterfly shape. It releases thyroid hormone, which is essential to regulate many bodily functions, including metabolism, development, and temperature regulation.
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In its healthy state, the thyroid gland helps regulate many of our bodily functions. However, over- or under-activity of the thyroid can cause issues throughout the body.
Hyperthyroidism occurs with thyroid gland overactivity and thyroid hormone overproduction. Symptoms can include nervousness, irritability, and anxiety. This may explain why research has indicated high levels of comorbidity between anxiety disorders and hyperthyroidism.
Hyperthyroidism can also cause:
Hypothyroidism indicates thyroid gland under-activity, resulting in low thyroid hormone levels. Symptoms may include:
Sensitivity to cold
Hypothyroidism can also reduce libido and cause irregular periods.
Hypothyroidism tends to be associated with a reduced ability to regulate body temperature and increased sensitivity to the cold. Hyperthyroidism is associated with excessive sweating and heat intolerance.
While some cases of hypothyroidism do cause night sweats, research is limited as to this effect. Some suggest that night sweats in these individuals are caused by medications for hypothyroidism, especially levothyroxine. Levothyroxine is used to replace thyroid hormone in its absence.¹
Excessive doses of this medication can be especially dangerous, prompting heart attack and death in some cases. Milder symptoms include increased sweating.
Hyperthyroidism tends to cause sweating over the entire body, including the face, neck, armpits, and palms.
Night sweats are also a common symptom of hyperthyroidism. This may be due to the poor temperature regulation abilities of these individuals. Such poor heat regulation, in combination with a hot climate or thick, nonbreathable clothing, can exacerbate sweating.
Menopause is a common cause of sweating. This occurs in females when their menstrual periods come to an end. A common symptom of this is ‘hot flashes,’ during which an individual suddenly becomes hot and profusely sweats in an environment that does not usually cause much sweating.
Diabetes is another common cause of sweating, as both type 1 and 2 variants can affect heat regulation, often reducing sweating ability. Some individuals with diabetes experience increased sweating, particularly gustatory sweating, which occurs during or immediately after digestion.²
Levothyroxine, a medication for hypothyroidism, can cause excessive sweating. However, other medications can also have this effect. Antidepressants can cause night sweats in 8–22% of individuals.
Such medication is often taken to mitigate depressive symptoms but can be used for other psychological conditions.
Many other drugs also cause night sweats, including:
Antipyretics (Aspirin, Acetaminophen)
Hyperhidrosis, or excessive sweating, is reported to occur in around 3% of the U.S. population; however, this may be caused by factors outside of hyper- or hypothyroidism.³
Hypothyroidism is estimated to affect around 5% of the general population (with a possible additional 5% undiagnosed), while hyperthyroidism is estimated to occur in 0.8% of Europeans and 1.3% of Americans. There are yet to be any studies estimating the prevalence of excessive sweating in individuals with thyroid conditions.⁴ ⁵
Thyroid conditions tend to be more common in women than in men. Hyperthyroidism is more prevalent in women and people older than 60, with women being up to 10 times as likely to develop it. Other factors can also increase the risk of hyperthyroidism, including smoking.
In terms of hypothyroidism, women are similarly at a higher risk than men; individuals over 60 are also more likely to develop this condition. Populations with high and low iodine intake are at greater risk of developing hypothyroidism. Autoimmune diseases also confer a higher risk of development.
If you are experiencing any issues with heat tolerance, changes in your anxiety level, sleep disturbances, thirst, fatigue, or weight fluctuations, this might be a sign that you should visit your healthcare professional and get your thyroid checked.
Excessive sweating, whether at night or during the day, can be an extremely troubling issue. However, there are some methods that may relieve this symptom:
Cooling your environment—While this may not be possible during the day, it can help to sleep in a cool room. Turning on a fan or opening a window can reduce the heat surrounding the body as you sleep, which can reduce the extent to which night sweats occur.
Reduce consumption of substances that promote sweating—Cigarettes, alcohol, and spicy foods can all increase sweating both during the day and at night. Reduction or elimination of these substances can reduce sweating.
Wear lightweight and breathable clothing—Choosing the right clothing can allow your skin to breathe. Cool air moving past your skin can help to naturally cool you.
Use an icepack—Sleeping with an ice pack or applying an ice pack to the points where blood vessels are closest to the skin's surface (i.e., wrists and neck) can help to cool one down and reduce sweating. An individual experiencing night sweats may find that special pillows with gel fillings help them stay cool during the night.
Treatments for hyperthyroidism depend upon the presentation of symptoms. Possible options include radioactive iodine, surgery, or antithyroid hormone drugs. In less severe presentations, such as thyroiditis, symptomatic treatment is usually recommended.
Treatments for hypothyroidism include hormone replacement therapies such as levothyroxine. This replaces thyroxine (T4). Additional low-dosage triiodothyronine (T3) might be used in some cases. It is important to note that improper dosing of levothyroxine can cause profuse sweating.
The thyroid gland is useful and important to the body; however, its dysfunction can cause some issues, including profuse sweating. In the case of hyperthyroidism, sweating is a direct effect of the condition.
Conversely, in hypothyroidism, excessive sweating can happen as a result of medications used to treat thyroid dysfunction. While these symptoms can be troublesome, there are many possible treatments available.
What to know about hypothyroidism, sweating, and night sweats | Medical News Today
What is hyperthyroidism? | EndocrineWeb