Cold Sweat

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
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What is a cold sweat?

A cold sweat is a condition in which you sweat and your skin feels clammy and very cool or cold. It commonly affects the palms of the hands, underarms, and feet.

The body sweats as a way to keep itself cool, so it is normal to sweat if you are in a warm environment or if you’ve exerted yourself. The body also sweats as a reaction to stress or anxiety. This type of sweat often feels cool instead of warm.

Cold sweat can also be a symptom of a variety of mild to serious conditions or even a life-threatening condition that requires emergency medical care, such as a heart attack, severe injury, or shock. When you have a cold sweat due to serious conditions, you may also look very pale and feel weak, short of breath, or have other symptoms, such as chills or chest pain. It is important when you experience a cold sweat that you pay close attention to all the symptoms that you are feeling, so that you and your licensed medical professional can identify and treat its underlying cause.

Some underlying causes of a cold sweat can lead to life-threatening complications. S eek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have chest pain, shortness of breath, severe abdominal pain, or a change in consciousness or alertness, with or without a cold sweat.

What other symptoms might occur with a cold sweat?

A cold sweat often occurs with other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition.

Symptoms that may occur with a cold sweat include:

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, a cold sweat may occur with other symptoms and certain combinations of symptoms that might indicate a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life-threatening symptoms, with or without a cold sweat:

What causes a cold sweat?

A cold sweat can occur without any physical exertion and without warm temperatures. A cold sweat is often caused by mental and emotional stress, anxiety, or panic, but it can also be caused by a variety of diseases and disorders. A cold sweat may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting, such as heart attack or severe allergic reaction.

Blood and heart conditions that can cause a cold sweat

Changes in heart function and blood pressure that can lead to a cold sweat include:

Other diseases, disorders and conditions that can cause a cold sweat

General conditions and emotional disturbances that can lead to a cold sweat include:

Questions for diagnosing the cause of a cold sweat

To diagnose the underlying cause of a cold sweat, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you questions about your symptoms. You can best help your health care practitioner in diagnosing the underlying cause of cold sweat by providing complete answers to these questions:

  • How long have you had a cold sweat?

  • Are you currently experiencing stress or anxiety about something in your life, such as relationships, work or finances?

  • Are you in pain?

  • Have you recently been bitten by an insect, or ingested a new type of food or drink?

  • Have you had a fever or other symptoms of an infection?

  • What other symptoms do you have?

What are the potential complications of a cold sweat?

In some cases, a cold sweat can be associated with a serious or life-threatening condition, such as angina, tuberculosis, or heart attack. It is important to contact your health care provider as soon as possible when you experience a cold sweat. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, following the treatment plan you and your health care provider design specifically for you can help reduce potential complications including:

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    Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
    Last Review Date: 2021 Jan 4
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    THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
    1. Know the symptoms. Office on Women's Health. https://www.womenshealth.gov/heartattack/symptoms.html
    2. Hyperhidrosis. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine.     https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/007259.htm
    3. Skin – clammy. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/003216.htm