Night sweats, a common perspiration disorder, often accompanies HIV. They occur during sleep and stop upon waking. Perspiration is how the body regulates its temperature. It's controlled by the sympathetic nerves thus increases when the nerves become excited. The quantity of sweat and the speed by which it is expired through the body's 200-500 million sweat pores depends on environmental conditions such as temperature, moisture and wind, as well as a person's health: physical strength and emotional status.

A healthy person produces between 500 and 1,000 cc of sweat each day. A person with a perspiration disorder will produce much more.

Serious Causes

Though the causes of night sweats are many, generally they are symptomatic of underlying disease, particularly infectious and consumptive diseases. (For example: Micro bacterium avium complex, or MAC infection. In fact, if you are experiencing night sweats you can ask your doctor to do a MAC diagnostic test to either identify the infection or rule it out. MAC is common in women with HIV/AIDS and can be deadly if left untreated. Another cause of night sweats in women may be due to early menopause or hormone imbalances caused by HIV, check with your doctor.)

A Systematic Approach

Conventional medicine treats the underlying disease and in the process also treats night sweats. This is fine when there is a remedy for the root cause, but if the sweats are caused by HIV itself, there is so far no such cure. Chinese herbal medicine takes a very different approach, viewing night sweats as an important indication of the person's overall health.

Yin and Yang

According to Chinese medical theory, night sweats are associated with a yin essence (body essence). The diminished state is due to a depletion of body fluids and nutrients. Symptoms include flushed cheeks, warm palms and soles, a dry mouth, red lips, small quantities of dark urine, a red tongue with slight coating, a weak and rapid pulse, and low-grade fevers. Chinese medicine, states that if there is a wasting away caused by a consumptive disease, then yin deficiency must be present. HIV disease is therefore often diagnosed as a yin deficiency.

Effective Herbs

If a person is still fairly healthy, mild night sweats can be treated with White Peony Combination (White Peony, Zizyphus and Mume) or Schzisandra combination (Schzisandra, Cornus, Dragon Bone, Oyster Shell, Ho-Shou-Wu, Polygala, Gall, & Lycium Bark.)

If HIV has progressed to an advanced stage, night sweats become a severe problem. Immediately upon falling asleep, a person may begin to sweat profusely, waking when the perspiration is so great that the bed sheets become drenched. Severe night sweats can be treated with a formula coded HY-34, which contains tang-Kuei, rehmannia, astragalus, coptis, scute, phellodendron. To enhance its effect, ma-hang root (Ephedrae radix) is often added. If this formula does not completely stop the night sweats, gall extract can be applied to the umbilical cavity (naval), moistened with water and covered with sterile gauze and adhesive tape.

Many people have successfully been treated for night sweats using herbal formulas. Most people have seen their night sweats stop after three to four days of using a combination of herbs. Because everyone is different it is best to consult an herbal practitioner to find out what will work for you.

Karen Raub is the official herbalist consultant for Women Alive. She can be reached at Phoenix Pharmacy: 2523 East Washington Blvd., Pasadena, California 91104, 818-791-7600.