How often do you find yourself sweating excessively without any clear reason?
Excessive sweating as a person with diabetes isn’t a common topic of discussion, but you’re definitely not the only one dealing with it.
There are actually a number of reasons diabetes may be causing that extra sweating.
In this article, we’ll discuss different aspects of diabetes that can lead to excessive sweating and what you can do about it.
Causes of excessive sweating in people with diabetes
There are numerous reasons diabetes can cause illogical and obnoxious sweating in a person with diabetes. Some of those reasons are simple and resolved quickly, and others are far more complicated.
Let’s take a look.
Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
By far the most obvious and most common reason for a sudden bout of sweating, low blood sugar is one of the tedious challenges that come with managing your blood sugar levels.
Generally the result of an imbalance of insulin versus food or activity, low blood sugars can also result from a few types of non-insulin diabetes medications used to treat diabetes.
The sweating that comes with low blood sugar is the result of adrenaline. When your blood sugar is dropping, your body releases adrenaline to compensate.
Symptoms of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) can include:
- Feeling shaky
- Being nervous or anxious
- Sweating, chills, and clamminess
- Irritability or impatience
- Fast heartbeat
- Feeling lightheaded or dizzy
- Color draining from the skin (pallor)
- Feeling Sleepy
- Feeling weak or having no energy
- Blurred/impaired vision
- Tingling or numbness in the lips, tongue, or cheeks
- Coordination problems, clumsiness
- Nightmares or crying out during sleep
If caught early, some low blood sugars simply leave you feeling hot and on the verge of sweating. The more severe the low is, and the greater length of time your blood sugar is low, the more you will sweat.
Severe low blood sugars while you’re sleeping, for example, could persist gradually for an hour before your body wakes up and you find yourself soaked in sweat.
For some people with diabetes, sweating may be one of the first symptoms you feel when your blood sugar is dropping. For others, it may come long after lightheadedness, trembling, hunger, irritability, and tiredness.
Treatment: While the occasional low blood sugar is expected in anyone taking insulin or some non-insulin diabetes medications, frequent low blood sugars mean the dosage of your medication needs to be adjusted.
Our insulin needs change throughout our lives based on variables like your weight, age, activity level, nutrition habits, and stress level.
For example, if you start walking every day after dinner, your medication dosages will likely need an adjustment to prevent low blood sugars because your body is burning more of the glucose in your bloodstream on its own during exercise.
In general, anyone taking insulin or other medications that lower blood sugar should keep fast-acting carbohydrates nearby at all times in order to treat lows quickly and safely.
If hypoglycemia is a frequent problem and concern for you, ask your healthcare team about using a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) to help you prevent and manage your low blood sugars sooner so they don’t become as severe.
- Read more about preventing and managing low blood sugars.
Thyroid conditions are relatively common in people with diabetes, but there are two types and only one is likely to cause excessive sweating.
Hyperthyroidism: A common consequence of persistently high blood sugar levels, hyperthyroidism is characterized by an over-active thyroid producing too much hormone.
This type of thyroid disorder is more commonly seen in people with type 2 diabetes. There is a version of hyperthyroidism that is an autoimmune condition, known as Grave’s Disease.
Common symptoms of all hyperthyroidism include:
- Hot flashes
- Excessive sweating
- Weight fluctuations (gain or loss)
- Mood swings
- Fast heart rate
- Increased appetite
- Frequent bowel movements
- Low energy
- Trembling or shaking hands
- Irregular periods, miscarriages, and infertility
Hypothyroidism: This type of thyroid disorder is actually an autoimmune disease — which is why it’s more common in people with type 1 diabetes.
Also known as “Hashimoto’s disease,” the immune system is attacking and destroying the thyroid’s ability to produce adequate amounts of various hormones.
Common symptoms include:
- Enlarged thyroid gland (appears as swelling around the neck)
- Mood swings
- Dry skin
- Brittle hair and hair-loss
- Fluid retention
- Muscle weakness
- Infertility and miscarriage
Treatment: All types of thyroid conditions can be tested for with a blood draw and treated with carefully dosed and adjusted medications that regulate or replace thyroid hormones.
Like taking insulin, though, you’ll find that determining the right medication and the right dosage for your body’s needs can take some time. Be patient as you go about this process!
This type of neuropathy can develop when persistently high blood sugar levels begin to interfere with your nervous system’s ability to manage normal involuntary functions like bladder control, heart rate, and sweating.
More difficult to detect, one of the most obvious external signs of autonomic neuropathy is severely dry, cracked feet along with excessive sweating.
Treatment: The best treatment for this condition is to get your blood sugars back into a healthier range as quickly as possible. Talk to your healthcare team about medications to help manage your symptoms.
Heart failure, heart attack, or stroke
Excessive sweating can be a clear and emergent sign of heart failure, heart attack, or a stroke. If your sweating is an issue you’ve been dealing with on a regular basis for weeks and months, it’s likely not related to one of these life-threatening heart conditions.
Treatment: If you’re also experiencing symptoms of shaking, chills, and fever, you should get to an emergency room immediately. As with everything else, getting your blood sugars into a healthier range can significantly reduce your chances of developing a cardiovascular condition.
Chronic kidney disease (CKD) is a very common complication of persistently high blood sugar levels in people with diabetes.
CKD is defined by your kidney’s increasing struggle to excrete excess fluid and waste from your body. The accumulation of that fluid and waste is what usually leads to symptoms including:
- Low blood pressure
- Excessive sweating
- Nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite
- Muscle cramps
- Feeling out of breath frequently
- Difficulty sleeping
Sweating can also result from certain medications used to treat kidney disease.
Treatment: There are 5 stages of kidney disease, and the most important thing anyone with diabetes can do to prevent or manage CKD is to get your blood sugars back into a healthier range and discuss the necessary treatment steps with your healthcare team.
Obesity has been established as the leading risk factor for type 2 diabetes. Excessive sweating is a well-established symptom and complication of obesity.
In the body of an obese person, explains The Weight of the Nation, the amount of body surface area (BSA) is very low in relation to their overall weight. This means the body has more trouble eliminating body heat as quickly and easily. Sweating is the body’s next method of releasing and managing body heat.
Treatment: Losing weight is the number one most important thing you could focus on as a patient struggling with obesity. But you don’t have to go at it alone. Talk to your healthcare team! There may be certain medications, coaching, and other support available to help your pursuit of weight loss more sustainable and successful!
Overall, it’s important to note that excessive sweating may seem harmless but it’s often the sign of something far more significant.
If you’re struggling with excessive sweating, don’t dismiss it or ignore it. Contact your healthcare team in order to be sure your body isn’t dealing with something potentially dangerous that needs to be treated.