HIV is now being coined a "chronic, but manageable disease". It is often coupled with other so-called chronic, but manageable diseases, such as diabetes.
However, as with many other types of illness, whether they be viral, bacterial, or something else entirely, there are several annoying factors, or more specifically, symptoms that the sufferer must simply learn to live with. One of the most annoying symptoms relating to HIV infection and disease is night sweats.
Night sweats can have many causes, even within the HIV spectrum of symptoms. The average person sweats a relatively low amount of liquid within a 24 hour period. People suffering from night sweats, whether they are HIV+ or not, sweat at least twice this amount just in the period that they are asleep. Most people that have the virus, myself included, are very familiar with waking up in the middle of the night, only to find their clothing and bed clothes are soaked through, sometimes all the way to the mattress. In order to live a relatively healthy life, for the "average" lifespan that people with this once feared-above-all virus, one must come to terms with their illness, and all that it includes. For people living with, and not dying from, HIV, they must make peace with all parts of it; the annoying, the painful, even the humiliating.
So let's discuss some ways to deal with night sweats. Unfortunately, there is no way to eradicate them completely. For anyone living with any disease that causes an immunodeficiency, night sweats are just part of it, kind of like swollen lymph glands, fatigue, or frequent fevers. Since we can't prevent them, the best alternative action is to lessen the annoyance. Night sweats can happen for different reasons, even if it's because of the same disease. For example, some may notice often when they wake in the middle of the night during a "case" of the night sweats, they may have spent the day before battling on again, off again low-grade fevers. A person could go to bed at night freezing because of the fever, then the fever breaks, and they're in layers among layers of blankets. So if this is the case, it may it help lower the occurrence of night sweats if you take something to break the fever an hour or two before going to sleep.
Again, there is no way of truly preventing night sweats, especially the kind that aren't caused by breaking fevers. However, we can try to make them less annoying. One way to do that is to lower the temperature in the room you sleep in. Be careful with that method though, we don't want to catch a chill either. I've been told by both fellow sufferers and doctors to try sleeping on several layers of bath towels, that way throughout the night you can peel and toss and quickly go back to sleep. Purchase a mattress cover that will protect your mattress from the extra liquid, I promise it will be cheaper than replacing your mattress. If you happen to be one of these very lucky people, who has absolutely no problem falling asleep after waking in the middle of the night, jump up out of bed, change your sheets, and hop into a cool shower. Many people may find that refreshing and put them in a better mood after waking to such a nasty set of circumstances.
The number one way of dealing with the annoyance of night sweats is simple...get over it. There's nothing to do about it other than attempt to make it somewhat more comfortable. The most important thing any HIV+ person can do is to make peace with their illness. To do this, you must be able to make peace with each aspect of it, no matter how uncomfortable or possibly degrading. Find your inner Zen, have a drink and make merry, (though only in certain cases is that advisable), and get over it. This is not a disease that anyone asks to have, but it is one in which mental health and peace with the world is essential to stay healthy. Salut.
Written by Mark Riegel, MD
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