Many people with myeloproliferative neoplasms (MPNs) — primary myelofibrosis, essential thrombocythemia (ET), and polycythemia vera (PV) — experience night sweats. Night sweats aren’t simply beads of perspiration that can be wiped away with the back of your hand. These episodes of heavy sweating can soak through your nightwear and bedding, causing significant sleep disruption.
Night sweats, along with other MPN symptoms, can seriously affect your quality of life. They can contribute to insomnia and interfere with intimacy. According to a myMPNteam member, “I am having several problems ... bone pain, night sweats, and what my oncologist calls skin sensitivity ... I work hard at not letting them interfere with my life.”
Night sweats can be particularly hard to handle because it can be difficult to figure out how to treat them. As one myMPNteam member said, “I haven't figured out anything to get rid of the … night sweats except a phlebotomy — and that is only temporary.” In addition, it’s sometimes hard to know whether night sweats are caused by MPNs, other conditions, or both.
Recently, myMPNteam spoke to Dr. Andrew Kuykendall, a physician at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, about dealing with night sweats caused by MPNs. Dr. Kuykendall is a clinical researcher who focuses on developing novel treatments for MPNs. He is an active member of the MPN-Research Consortium.
Why do people with MPNs experience night sweats? MPNs cause the body to produce excess levels of cytokines, a type of protein that causes inflammation. Sweating is one of the symptoms caused by these increased levels of cytokines.
According to Dr. Kuykendall, night sweats are more common for people with myelofibrosis and PV than for people with ET. People he sees in his clinical practice might have night sweats caused by MPNs and not even know it. Instead, they blame thyroid issues, a hot climate, symptoms of menopause, or medication side effects.
As Dr. Kuykendall said, many people blame conditions other than MPNs for their night sweats — and that’s because night sweats are incredibly common symptoms for multiple diseases and conditions. Thyroid conditions, sleep apnea, infections, and autoimmune disorders are just some of the conditions that can cause night sweats. Psychological conditions, such as anxiety disorders, can also cause night sweats. In addition, night sweats are among the classic symptoms of menopause. The average age of menopause (51 in the U.S.) is slightly earlier than the median MPN age diagnosis (60), so the two conditions can overlap.
Certain medications, such as antidepressants and drugs used to treat diabetes, can also trigger night sweats.
General treatments for MPNs can help lessen some of the symptoms of MPNs, Dr. Kuykendall said. In particular, treatment with Jakafi (Ruxolitinib), a Janus kinase (JAK2) inhibitor, can help reduce night sweats, he noted. Jakafi can minimize night sweats by blocking the production of cytokines that lead to night sweats.
Dr. Kuykendall also recommends exercises, such as yoga, and a healthy diet as general ways to improve health with MPNs and reduce MPN symptoms. He spoke about the importance of good sleep hygiene, which involves creating a sleep routine with a fixed bedtime and wake-up time. It also involves keeping electronics, such as televisions and cell phones, out of the bedroom for a set period before sleep, and using presleep relaxation methods such as meditation or breathing techniques. Cutting down on alcohol, nicotine, and late meals and caffeinated drinks can also help with sleep hygiene.
Other methods to reduce the frequency and severity of night sweats include cooling your bedroom by turning down the thermostat or using lighter bedding. Loose nightclothes made of light, natural fabric, such as cotton, can also help. Wearing layers of clothing to bed can make it easier to adjust your temperature levels while you are in bed. Drinking cool water before going to bed can also regulate your body temperature and prevent night sweats.
If you have an MPN and are experiencing night sweats, speak with your doctor about the treatments and therapies that might be right for you. “I think some of the benefit in speaking with a specialist comes in discussing these nonspecific symptoms, such as night sweats, that are incredibly frustrating,” said Dr. Kuykendall. “You can figure out whether these symptoms are truly MPN-related or due to some other kind of unspecified cause.”
By joining myMPNteam, the social network and online support group for those living with MPNs, you gain a support group of people who understand the challenges of living with these rare blood cancers.
Here are some conversations about night sweats and sleep problems with MPNs:
Have you been affected by night sweats? Have you found a treatment or therapy that has eased your symptoms? Share your tips and experiences in a comment below or on myMPNteam. You'll be surprised how many other members have similar stories.