Hyperhidrosis is a medical condition characterized by excessive sweating usually noticed in teens and young adults. Unlike normal sweating, hyperhidrosis occurs when the body produces increased perspiration or sweating, in excess of that required for regulation of body temperature. During normal sweating, nerves send messages to the brain that the body is too hot. Our brain reacts and activates sweat glands. For those with hyperhidrosis, none of those factors are necessarily present.
Hyperhidrosis affects 1-3% of the population and is considered to be inherited as an autosomal dominant genetic trait. Although there is no known cause, there appears to be a relationship to an overactive sympathetic nervous system, located in the chest cavity.
To understand hyperhidrosis, it is important to understand normal sweating. Our bodies come equipped with sudoriferous (sweat) glands to produce our sweat. We have two different types of sweat glands – eccrine and apocrine. Millions of eccrine sweat glands are found all over the body. They produce a simple, watery solution we call sweat in seemingly unlimited quantities. The sweat produced from the eccrine sweat glands is odorless unless it becomes contaminated with other secretions such as epidermal (skin) scales or other skin debris. Apocrine glands are not as numerous and are found in limited areas where large numbers of hair follicles grow – specifically in the underarm or armpit area, scalp and groin. When sweat is produced, it is pushed to the surface of the skin in these areas where the sweat is broken down by bacteria. The bacteria causes the odor many associate with armpits.
Hyperhidrosis or excessive sweating may affect any part of the body, but the most common regions are sweaty palms or hands (palmar), armpits (axillary), face (facial) and feet (plantar).
There are two types of hyperhidrosis or excessive sweating. Primary hyperhidrosis usually starts during adolescence; however, it can start anytime. Secondary hyperhidrosis typically begins later in life and is the result of an underlying medical condition or side-effect of a medication. If you believe you are experiencing either primary or secondary hyperhidrosis, it is important to talk to a physician. A diagnosis of excessive sweating can often be made by a physician asking a few simple questions which can help determine if you have hyperhidrosis and whether or not it’s primary or secondary.
Hyperhidrosis can cause severe psychological, medical and occupational problems. Intimate relationships can adversely be affected because individuals with sweaty palms or feet may feel uncomfortable touching or being around others. Additionally, day-to-day recreational and work-related activities can be difficult, dangerous and impossible to perform. Sporting equipment, heavy machinery and typical tools can become slippery and difficult to grasp. Even a simple social handshake is cause for embarrassment. As a consequence, hyperhidrosis can cause individuals to be socially withdrawn and limited in their choice of profession, relationships and hobbies or sports.
Symptoms of primary hyperhidrosis or excessive sweating
- Sweat dripping from hands, feet, armpits or face with no apparent trigger
- Too embarrassed to shake hands because of excessive sweating
- Feet that have a very bad odor most of the time
- Armpits that leave large sweat rings on clothing even when it’s cool outside.
- Social withdrawal or depression as a result of sweating
- Avoiding social or sporting activities because of sweating
Symptoms of secondary hyperhidrosis
- Medical conditions such as cancer, diabetes, gout, obesity
- Hormonal conditions such as menopause
- Medication side effects
There are many causes of secondary hyperhidrosis that can be determined by your physician. Answering a few simple questions can help determine if you have primary or secondary hyperhidrosis. At Gulfcoast Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgeons, we focus on treating primary hyperhidrosis. However, if you believe you have secondary hyperhidrosis, we encourage you to speak to your physician to find out what the underlying causes of your excessive sweating may be. A quick screening can help us determine if you have primary or secondary hyperhidrosis.
Hyperhydrosis in the News