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Night Sweats: Another Approach to this Common HCV Symptom

Nicole Cutler L.Ac. March 23, 2007

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Night sweats are a common symptom of chronic Hepatitis C infection. Though Western medicine has neither a concrete explanation nor a solution, Traditional Chinese Medicine has ways of dealing with this uncomfortable symptom. Learn more about the causes of night sweats and what you can do to manage and minimize their impact.

Chronic Hepatitis C presents many different symptoms in its patients, such as fatigue, abdominal pain, nausea, jaundice, muscle aches, and night sweats. Individuals who suffer from night sweats may awaken in the middle of the night either feeling too cold or too hot, their palms clammy and their bed sheets wet with perspiration. Night sweats can disrupt sleep, causing stress and insomnia. For an illness without a cure, the only resolution of night sweats for people with Hepatitis C is the eradication of the virus. A common symptom for people with chronic Hepatitis C and a wide range of other health disorders, Western medicine does not have a cure for night sweats. However, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) recognizes night sweats as a specific dysfunction and addresses it accordingly.

Perspiration is how the body regulates its temperature. Controlled by the sympathetic nervous system, sweating can occur with any bio-thermal activity. The quantity of sweat and the speed it is expired through the body’s 200-500 million pores depends primarily on these five factors:

  1. Temperature
  2. Moisture
  3. Wind
  4. Physical health
  5. Emotional status

Proposed Causes

While the physiological explanation for night sweating is widely debated, most experts believe the cause to be one of the following:

  • Infectious Diseases – Hepatitis C falls under this category, as does HIV and tuberculosis. Any infectious disease bringing on a fever can cause night sweats.
  • Menopause – The hormonal changes causing menopause in women is the most common cause of night sweats. However, some men also suffer from night sweats during the male menopause (andropause).
  • Diabetes Insipidus – Night sweats are often a symptom of diabetes. Other metabolic conditions have also been associated with night sweating.
  • Sleep Apnea – When accompanied by severe snoring and excessive daytime sleepiness, night sweats can be a sign of sleep apnea.
  • Alcohol, drugs and spicy foods – Consumption of any of these can cause night sweats. Some recreational and prescription drugs can both potentially cause night sweats.
  • Hot and humid environment – Sleeping in a hot room or with blankets that are too warm can cause overheating, resulting in night sweats.

Approaches

Western medicine advises approaching night sweats based on their cause. Since HCV is currently an infectious disease without a cure, this approach provides little relief. Below are some practical tips on managing night sweats:

  • Avoidance – Avoid alcohol (this is a given with liver disease), cigarettes, recreational drugs, spicy foods, caffeine and sugar. All of these can raise body temperature.
  • Drug check – Talk with your doctor about your medications to see if they could be contributing to night sweating.
  • Cool down – Keep your bedroom cool. If weather permits, keep a window open, or try using a fan. However, avoid a draft directly on you.
  • Shower – Taking a cool shower before bed may lower body temperature enough to prevent an attack of night sweats.

Traditional Chinese Medicine perceives night sweating as an indication of a person’s state of health. According to Chinese medical theory, night sweats are associated with an imbalance of yin, where body fluids and nutrients are depleted.

In TCM, the well-known yin-yang symbol is the embodiment of balance. Although they represent opposite forces, there can be no yin without yang, and vice versa. Yin is the material basis for yang. Yang is the functional manifestation of yin. The three most relevant properties of yin are as follows:

  1. Cools – Due to its fluidity, yin cools the body and maintains an even body temperature.
  2. Nourishes – Yin supplies nourishment to the body at all levels.
  3. Provides rest – When in balance with yang, yin enables us to use our energy efficiently, recover easily from fatigue and preserve health.

In cases of chronic disease, particularly when the liver is affected, the proportion of yin to yang diminishes. Symptoms of yin deficiency include night sweats, fatigue, restlessness, insomnia, flushed cheeks, warm palms and soles, a dry mouth, red lips, and low-grade afternoon fevers. Therefore, TCM approaches night sweats by fortifying yin. Those trained in TCM utilize a variety of techniques and/or herbal prescriptions to tonify the yin. Countless case studies document night sweats disappearing under the care of a TCM practitioner. Although less potent than acupuncture or Chinese herbs, consuming the following foods can also help fortify yin:

  • Grains – barley, millet
  • Beans – adzuki beans, kidney beans, black beans, black soya beans, mung beans
  • Protein – eggs, beef, pork, duck, oyster, clams, crab, octopus, fish
  • Flavorings – sesame seeds, black sesame seeds, walnuts
  • Vegetables – asparagus, artichokes, peas, regular and sweet potatoes, seaweed, yams, tomatoes
  • Fruits – apples, pears, pomegranates, watermelon, bananas, avocadoes

Approximately 50 percent of people with Hepatitis C can successfully rid themselves of the virus with current western medical treatments. TCM can provide a new approach to those who continue to experience night sweats as a result of the disease. Although Traditional Chinese Medicine does not claim to rid the body of HCV, seeing a qualified practitioner or following TCM dietary advice as outlined here can put an end to this uncomfortable symptom.

References:

www.acupuncturetoday.com, Hepatitis C Virus: The Silent Epidemic, Part Two, Misha Cohen, OMD, L.Ac., Acupuncture Today, October 2002.

www.digitalnaturopath.com, Night Sweats, The Analyst, 2007.

www.comoxvalleyacupuncture.com, Dietary Principles According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, Comox Valley Acupuncture, 2007.

www.patients.uptodate.com, Approach to the Patient with Night Sweats, Gerald W. Smetana, MD, UptoDate, 2007.

www.sleepdisorders.about.com, How to Cope with Night Sweats, About, Inc., 2007.

www.sleepingdisorder-abc.com, Sweating Sleep: What It Means When You Have Night Sweats, Sleeping Disorder ABC, 2007.

www.thebody.com, Treating Night Sweats with Herbs, Dr. Qingcai Zhang, The Body, 2007.

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