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 - Northwestern Memorial Hospital - Chicago

Hyperhidrosis

Hyperhidrosis is a medical condition whereby a person sweats both excessively and unpredictably. People with this condition sweat even in cool temperatures, or when resting.

Sweating helps the body keep cool, and is a natural part of body function, most often triggered by:

  • Warm temperatures
  • Exercise
  • Emotional situations such as fear, anger, or embarrassment

In people with hyperhidrosis, who have overactive sweat glands, sweating occurs regardless of these triggers. This uncontrollable sweating may cause both physical and emotional discomfort.

Causes of Hyperhidrosis

There are two main types of hyperhidrosis:

  • Primary—affecting the hands, feet and/or armpits
  • Secondary—affecting the entire body, or one area

In the majority of cases of primary hyperhidrosis, no cause can be determined, although it does appear to have a genetic component and run in families.

Secondary hyperhidrosis may be caused by a number of medical conditions, including:

  • Acromegaly
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Blood sugar disorders
  • Cancer
  • Carcinoid syndrome
  • Drug abuse
  • Heart disease
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Lung disease
  • Menopause
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • Spinal cord injury
  • Stroke
  • Tuberculosis

Diagnosis & Testing

While the most obvious sign of hyperhidrosis is sweating, your doctor may conduct a number of tests to diagnose the cause of the excessive sweating. This may include:

  • Paper test—special paper may be used to absorb the sweat and be weighed, determining the amount of sweating that is occurring

  • Starch-iodine test—the application of an iodine solution to the affected area, coupled with starch sprinkled on the area once the solution dries, helps your doctor determine the location of the problem areas

Your doctor may ask you detailed questions about your sweating, trying to determine patterns, locations, triggers, and other factors which may be contributing to it.

While hyperhidrosis may cause embarrassment and inconvenience, it can sometimes be an indicator of a serious medical condition, so if you experience prolonged, excessive or unexplained sweating, you should consult a physician.

Treatment

Treatments for hyperhidrosis may include:

  • Antiperspirants—your doctor may recommend a strong antiperspirant to block the sweat ducts

  • Medications—anticholinergic drugs may be used in some patients, and drugs such as beta-blockers and benzodiazepines may also help reduce sweating related to stress

  • Iontophoresis—most often used on hands and feet, this treatment uses a gentle electric current to temporarily turn off the sweat glands

  • Botox™—Botulinum toxin type A has been approved for treatment of severe underarm sweating, which is known as primary axillary hyperhidrosis. This treatment temporarily blocks the nerves that stimulate sweating. You should consult with your doctor about this treatment.

  • Endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy—this minimally invasive surgery may be used in severe cases of hyperhidrosis, if all other treatments fail

Support

Contact the International Hyperhidrosis Society, www.sweathelp.org, for information and support.

Last UpdateJanuary 19, 2012
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