Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an inflammatory autoimmune condition that occurs when the body’s immune system attacks the joints. Pain and fatigue are the two most prominent symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. However, many people with RA experience excess sweating and feeling overheated, even without a fever, infection, or high external temperatures.
Many people diagnosed with RA experience sweating along with other RA symptoms like joint pain, weight loss, and dry eyes. This sweating can also come with hot flashes or periods of time when you feel excessively warm.
As myRAteam members describe, people living with rheumatoid arthritis experience hot flashes and sweating in different ways. Some alternate between feeling too cold and being so hot they start sweating. “I am mostly freezing cold,” one member wrote, “but then, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, I’m hit with a feeling of being so hot internally. It lasts for a few minutes, then I’m back to being cold.” Another member explained, “Almost every day, around 2 or 3 a.m., I wake up really hot inside. I will not feel hot to the touch, but inside, I’m hot and my head is sweating.”
Other people struggle with night sweats. One member shared that worsened RA pain coincides with nighttime sweating: “I have terrible night sweats when my pain gets really bad!” Another agreed, explaining, “I'm having night sweats so bad that I wake up with beads of sweat on my body and wet hair.”
Others diagnosed with RA simply feel like they are sweating all the time. As one member said, “I experience excessive sweating all day, every day. The RA alone is causing me to sweat like I never have before. It’s absolutely miserable!”
Excessive heat and sweating can make it hard to do the things that matter the most to you. “I can’t even go to church without being soaking wet,” one member shared. Another noted that sweating limits their social interactions, even leading to feelings of isolation: “It has turned me into a recluse because of the shame I feel looking like a sweaty mess.”
Sweating too much can even make it hard to work. One member, a nurse, said, “I have had excessive sweating for years. It is so embarrassing that I’ve started to wear all black scrubs at work instead of all the cute different colored ones I have, just to try and hide the sweating.”
Sweating is more than just being physically uncomfortable. It can also affect your quality of life and make it hard to live normally. Understanding what may be causing the sweating and taking steps to relieve sweating and warmth may help.
Health care providers, rheumatologists, and researchers don’t know for sure what causes people diagnosed with RA to feel overheated and to sweat excessively. One study on RA symptoms during flares noted that a participant reported feeling that they’re “burning up” as though they have “a very high temperature” during flare-ups. However, there have not yet been studies dedicated to researching sweating, in particular. Self-reported symptoms like overheating and sweating can be hard for doctors to observe and for researchers to quantify in studies, experts say.
It may be the case that some autoimmune disorders like RA can affect the body’s ability to maintain a normal temperature. One study from Michigan Medicine suggested that RA inflammation may affect the brain, which plays a key role in regulating body temperature.
Some people with RA also have a condition known as autonomic dysfunction, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Autonomic dysfunction occurs when the body isn’t properly managing the autonomic nervous system, which controls body temperature, among other automatic functions.
See what RA specialist Dr. Iris Navarro-Millán says about weight loss and night sweats in RA.
There are many approaches to managing sweating with rheumatoid arthritis. Talk to your rheumatology expert to find the treatment plan that will work for you.
If you are taking a medication that has sweating or hot flashes as a potential side effect, you may want to talk to your health care provider. Perhaps you can switch to a different medication or find ways to minimize these side effects. You and your doctor will need to weigh the pros and cons of adjusting your medication, especially if it is effective at treating your rheumatoid arthritis.
As one myRAteam member wrote, “I got so hot and sweaty when I was on prednisone for a few months.” They shared that the symptoms went away after stopping the medication. As another member advised, “Both prednisone and steroid injections are notorious for causing hot flashes similar to those in menopause.”
If sweating is a problem for you, there are some things you can try to feel better. Adopting these lifestyle changes may help alleviate overheating and excess sweating.
Wearing several thin articles of clothing gives you the option to remove a layer or two if you start feeling warm.
Cool or cold showers may provide temporary relief from sweating and overheating. If you get hot flashes at night, you may want to try a cool shower just before bed. If you aren’t able to take a shower or bath, you can soak your feet in cold water.
Iced beverages, ice pops, and other frozen foods and drinks can help you cool down from the inside out.
Members of myRAteam know that having a team of others who understand life with rheumatoid arthritis can make all the difference. They regularly ask questions, give advice, and share stories about living with and managing RA.
Do you experience hot flashes, sweating, or overheating with RA? If you’ve found a way to manage it, let other members know in the comments below or by starting a new conversation thread.