While teaching a problem-solving workshop recently, I had a participant volunteer an unusual health issue she had suffered with continuously for the last seven years. Her problem with extremely heavy night sweating had begun suddenly while nursing her first-born child. Since then, the problem had continued fairly continuously, long after she stopped nursing her child. We successfully analyzed the problem together, using our standard problem analysis template and diagnostic worksheets.
The Problem History
After qualifying her issue to confirm that the cause was unknown, we began by describing the relevant problem history. This is a very different process compared to the typical patient history that most medical doctors take with their patients, which is a general description of previous illnesses, medications, known allergies, and diseases that run in the family. In our analysis, we focused only on the specific facts pertaining to the WHAT, WHERE, and WHEN of her presenting illness, plus the known distinctions and changes associated with these facts. When analyzing a problem in this manner the presumption is that this health issue, like most others, has an environmental (external) cause, not an internal (genetic) cause. Once this cause is uncovered, normally a permanent, painless, and drug-free cure can be applied simply by removing the aggravating external agent.
My first question in the WHAT description category was: Who are all the people who have the problem, and which closely related individuals do not have the problem? This data provides a useful baseline for comparison, which helps uncover possible causes and also helps to rule out other possible causes which don’t explain either side of the issue. I asked Lisa (all names changed to preserve privacy) if she knew anyone else who was experiencing similar symptoms. She said only her. I then asked if she had any sisters or brothers of similar age, and she indicated that she had an identical sister of the same age. Had her sister ever complained of similar symptoms? Lisa said that although they often shared many other common illnesses in the past and in fact frequently experienced ‘sympathetic pain’ even when the other sibling wasn’t sick with the same issue, in this case, her sister had never experienced anything similar at any time.
Next, we proceeded to describe Lisa’s symptoms in detail very carefully. She explained that she experienced full body night sweats that were so bad she had to sleep on a thick bath towel every night to absorb the excess moisture. She was also getting strange red welts on the underside of her arms and upper thighs, which may or may not have been related. She also said that she had suffered through two recent bouts of painful kidney stones, which she wasn’t sure if were related to the night sweats. Normally, I like to separate seemingly unrelated health problems so as not to complicate the analysis, and just focus on the highest priority health problem to find the underlying cause. Then we can see if there is a causal connection with the other symptoms after the first analysis is complete. Lisa told me her immediate priority was to solve the heavy night sweats problem, so we focused on that one first.
The next problem analysis category to explore was the WHEN (timing) pattern of the problem. This particular issue had a sudden onset, which Lisa remembered very vividly: her heavy sweating began spontaneously the moment she began nursing her newborn baby. Since then, the problem had continued uninterrupted with the heaviest sweating occurring at night while sleeping in bed. I then asked about an often unexplored aspect of the timing pattern, which is when in the life cycle of the person the problem is expressing. Lisa mentioned that the sweating was mostly concentrated around that time in her monthly cycle corresponding to her period/menstruation.
The last problem specification category to explore was the WHERE (location). Lisa said her sweating was essentially a full-body phenomenon, but the strange red welts that started out like little pimples were mostly restricted to the underside of her arms and upper thighs. Finally, in terms of the geographic location where Lisa experienced the symptoms, she had been exclusively living and traveling in the northern Florida region of Lake County since the time first started.
The Search for Cause
When performing a problem analysis like this on any health problem, it is not immediately apparent from the initial description of the problem which of the three problem description categories will reveal the true cause of the problem. Sometimes the reason for the illness has something to do with the unique aspects of the person afflicted, sometimes it has something to do with the unique timing of the problem, and sometimes it has something to do with the unique location of the symptoms either on the person’s body or in the locations s/he lives and travels. Each area must be carefully explored to identify the relevant distinctions in order to find the ‘smoking gun’.
First we started with the WHAT description information. I asked Lisa what was different about her compared to her identical twin sister who did not suffer with the same problem? She said the main difference between the two of them was that Lisa had previously had a child whereas her sister had not.
Moving on to the WHEN category, I asked her if she did anything unusual or different while pregnant with her child. She said the only thing she could think of from discussions with other women in her childbirth classes was that she was the only one who was taking a daily prenatal vitamin/mineral supplement. Since the heaving sweating didn’t actually start until she began nursing her child post-delivery, I asked her if she did anything different regarding how she nursed her baby or in her normal postpartum regimen. She said that she only changed the type of vitamin/mineral supplement she was taking to a normal women’s daily tablet. Finally, I asked her if she experienced any unusual changes around the time of her monthly period, and she couldn’t think of anything.
The last pertinent category to explore for distinctions pointing to a cause was the WHERE data. The only difference she could think of relating to the underside of her forearms was that part of her body normally rested on the surface of her desk while she typed on her computer at work. In terms of geographic presentation of the problem, the obvious distinction pertaining to her area of residence in northern Florida was the sub-tropical temperatures and humidity.
The Cause Construction
We now had all the information necessary to begin putting the pieces together and constructing possible explanations for her unusual symptoms. At this point, I like to encourage my client to ‘hallucinate’ and think outside the box to consider any and every possible way in which the symptoms could have been created, while focusing our brainstorming on the unique differences we uncovered previously pertaining to the What, When, and Where data. Whenever a health problem has a sudden onset, and particularly when there are areas of sharp contrast between closely related ‘IS’ and ‘IS NOT’ information, the cause is almost always found lurking in these areas of distinction.
In this case, one of the close areas of distinction pertained to Lisa and her identical twin who had so much in common both anatomically and in their upbringing, but who had very different outcomes concerning the expression of this particular problem. The other notable area of sharp contrast related to the very sudden and unusual initial expression of the problem: when Lisa began nursing. We began the search for possible causes by first discussing the various functions of sweating: to regulate temperature, to balance internal fluid dynamics, and to remove toxins—particularly heavy metals.
This brought up the possible connection with her vitamin/mineral supplements. I asked Lisa if she remembered the brand and type of supplement she took both while pregnant and since giving birth. She only remembered that the prenatal supplement was an extremely large tablet fortified with iron and calcium and that the supplement she had been taking since giving birth was a branded Alive Women’s Daily vitamin/mineral supplement. I asked Lisa if she knew if her sister also took vitamin/mineral supplements, and she said no.
At this point, the pieces began fitting together. We quickly framed a likely scenario: Lisa was probably loading her body with more metals and minerals than it needed from the large and specialized mineral supplement she was taking, especially for her quite diminutive body (only five feet tall and less than 100 pounds pre-pregnancy weight). When she began nursing, her body likely began sweating in an attempt to expel the excess heavy metals out of her body in order to minimize the chance of passing these toxins along in her breast milk to her nursing baby. Subsequently, the fluid imbalances created by her monthly cycle during those times when she was menstruating further concentrated the excess metals and minerals that she was still consuming in her daily multivitamin, which was dosed for a larger female frame.
Now all we had to do was confirm the suspected cause in order to take corrective action. First, we did some quick online checking and verified that excess metal toxicity is associated with heavy night sweats. Excess metal toxicity can be measured in a number of ways: through hair sample analysis, sweat or urine analysis, or blood tests. Hair analysis is the often the most revealing test since many metals quickly pass from the blood to the tissues plus metals accumulated in hair can be 200-300 times more concentrated than in blood or urine. Furthermore, since scalp hair grows an average of only one to two centimetres per month, it also contains a temporal record of element metabolism which could be easily correlated with the cyclic monthly pattern of Lisa’s night sweats. Based on this information, she immediately stopped taking her daily multivitamin and within the space of two monthly cycles she found her excessive sweating progressively diminished unitl it vanished altogether.
It remains to be seen if these changes will prevent recurrences of her painful kidney stones, but Lisa is confident she has found and removed the underlying cause of this issue as well. It is extremely likely that the high concentration of these excess minerals (especially calcium), coupled with the fluid imbalances created by her heavy night sweats, was allowing these elements to concentrate and crystallize in her kidneys. Further hypothesizing that the red welts under her arms and thighs might be caused by excessive sweat buildup on her office desk and chair surfaces which could be harbouring skin infection-producing bacteria, she cleaned the desk and computer surfaces with an alcohol preparation and replaced her office chair. In the two months since analyzing this problem, all three problems have spontaneously remitted, and Lisa is once again enjoying peaceful and comfortable nightly rests in clean dry linens.
by Reid Jenner