Drenching Night Sweats… Cancer or Just Reflux?

Night sweats
Image Source: Houston Methodist

Heartburn, Sour Taste, and Spicy Food- A common combination of symptoms with gastric reflux. But reflux presenting as night sweats is a rare case!

A middle-aged male was having drenching night sweats for the past 3 months. He finally decided to seek medical attention. In the medical world, night sweats can be a symptom of any cancer. The doctors took a thorough history to find out if the patient has any symptoms indicating underlying cancer. However, they found out that the patient has only gastroesophageal reflux disease which is causing his symptoms. A rare symptom of GERD!

During the history, the patient denied any weight loss, appetite change, fever, fatigue, smoking, and intravenous drug use. He had no recent travels and was an occasional alcohol consumer with 1 to 2 beers per week.

However, on further inquiring, he revealed that he was having progressively worsening heartburn for the past 6 months for which he never sought any professional help for that.

He described his heartburn as a burning sensation that is worst in the mornings but persists throughout the day.

The patient was a known case of obstructive sleep apnea for which he was on CPAP, i.e., continuous positive airway pressure. The rest of his relevant history was unremarkable.

On examination, he had no abnormal findings. However, he weighed 128 kgs.

Night sweats are a rare symptom of reflux disease. Therefore, the doctors where bound to rule out any malignancy considering that these are way more common in cancers. To do so, they decided to perform advanced contrast imaging.

However, they, along with the patient, mutually decided to first treat his heartburn with omeprazole. At 1-month follow-up the patient’s heartburn resolved and so did his night sweats.

His drenching night sweats were completely resolved!

All his blood tests including the viral markers and HIV test, and chest X-ray came out unremarkable.

He continued the treatment for 3 months and had no similar symptoms again. This confirmed that night sweats were in fact due to GERD and not due to any cancer. Had it been due to malignancy, omeprazole would not have resolved the sweats.

Since there are no formal trials to establish a link between night sweats and GERD, it is imperative for clinicians to be aware of this rare manifestation to avoid unnecessary investigations. Physicians must rely on their clinical judgment as no definitive evidence is present at the moment.

Source: The Journal of the College of the Family Physicians of Canada

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Dr. Arsia Hanif has been a meritorious Healthcare professional with a proven track record throughout her academic life securing first position in her MCAT examination and then, in 2017, she successfully completed her Bachelors of Medicine and Surgery from Dow University of Health Sciences. She has had the opportunity to apply her theoretical knowledge to the real-life scenarios, as a House Officer (HO) serving at Civil Hospital. Whilst working at the Civil Hospital, she discovered that nothing satisfies her more than helping other humans in need and since then has made a commitment to implement her expertise in the field of medicine to cure the sick and regain the state of health and well-being. Being a Doctor is exactly what you’d think it’s like. She is the colleague at work that everyone wants to know but nobody wants to be. If you want to get something done, you approach her – everyone knows that! She is currently studying with Medical Council of Canada and aspires to be a leading Neurologist someday. Alongside, she has taken up medical writing to exercise her skills of delivering comprehensible version of the otherwise difficult medical literature. Her breaks comprise either of swimming, volunteering services at a Medical Camp or spending time with family.


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