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Night sweats: the warning signs that should not be ignored

Posted: 28/06/2017

While sweating during the night can often be harmless, in some cases it may be an indication of something more sinister, as a recent press report linking night sweats to TB has illustrated.

Tuberculosis is an infectious disease which can be cured but, if left untreated, may prove fatal. It is spread through inhaling tiny droplets from the coughs or sneezes of someone who is already suffering from the disease. While it mainly affects the lungs, it can have an impact on any part of the body, including the glands, bones and nervous system.

The symptoms of tuberculosis can vary but there are a few key signs that are commonly associated with the disease. Sweating profusely during the night is one of them and is often an indicator that the body’s levels of infection are potentially very high.

Emma Beeson, an associate in the clinical negligence team at Penningtons Manches, who has experience of dealing with cases relating to the negligent treatment of tuberculosis, knows all too well that the symptoms of sweating during the night can often be overlooked by patients and doctors and this can lead to a delay in diagnosis.

Emma has dealt with clinical negligence claims on behalf of families who sadly have lost their loved ones after doctors failed to diagnose and treat their tuberculosis. In all these cases, the relevance of the patient reporting persistent and severe night sweats was underestimated by doctors despite it being a clear red flag that tuberculosis was present. Often the patients would report such heavy sweating that they would have to shower throughout the night and no use of fans or cold towels would stop them from having these episodes.

This year’s World Tuberculosis Day on 24 March 2017 raised awareness of the condition and the fact that it has not been eradicated in the UK. For further details of the typical symptoms associated with tuberculosis, please click here.

Tuberculosis is not just an active disease. It can be inactive and in some cases this has caused part of the problem in doctors diagnosing the condition. Emma notes: “Tuberculosis may also be inactive, otherwise, known as 'latent TB'. This is where the bacteria is contracted but it remains inactive in the body causing no symptoms. The problem with this is that it can later become active, often when the body’s immune system becomes weak due to the use of drugs for other medical conditions or as a result of other diseases.

“While steps have been taken for a number of years to avoid the spread of TB in this country, we must not forget people who could have easily contracted the infectious bacteria many years ago at a time when measures to prevent the spread of the disease were less extensive. They may also have contracted TB abroad but will not show signs of this until much later on when they undergo treatment for another medical condition or have another disease which could lower their immune system.

“By raising awareness of the signs and symptoms of TB, let us hope that we can avoid further families losing their loved ones to a condition which can be treated if diagnosed soon enough and handled appropriately.”

If you, a family member or a loved one have concerns about the care you have received or a failure to diagnose a condition at an early stage which has led to serious consequences, please contact a member of Penningtons Manches Cooper’s clinical negligence team.

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