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What is hyperhidrosis (hi-purr-hi-DROE-sis)?
This is a medical condition that causes excessive sweating. The word “hyperhidrosis” means too much (hyper) sweating (hidrosis).
Excessive sweating happens when a person sweats more than is necessary. Yes, it’s necessary to sweat. Sweating cools the body, which prevents us from overheating. People who have hyperhidrosis, however, sweat when the body does not need cooling.
Many people who have hyperhidrosis sweat from one or two areas of the body. Most often, they sweat from their palms, feet, underarms, or head. While the rest of the body remains dry, one or two areas may drip with sweat. This excessive sweating can interfere with everyday activities. Hands can be so sweaty that it becomes difficult to turn a doorknob or use a computer. Sweat from the underarms often soaks through clothes, causing obvious sweat marks. Because the skin is often wet, skin infections can develop.
Signs and symptoms
If you have this medical condition, you may notice:
Two types of hyperhidrosis
Both types cause excessive sweating, but there are some differences.
In medical terminology, “secondary” means that the excessive sweating (hyperhidrosis) has an underlying cause. The cause could be a:
Medical conditions that can cause excessive sweating include:
If a person has this type of hyperhidrosis, the person may notice:
This type of sweating usually begins when the person is an adult. It also may begin after an accident or frostbite. Many medicines also can cause this type of hyperhidrosis.
Anxiety and embarrassment
Both types of hyperhidrosis can cause people to feel extremely anxious and embarrassed. Students often avoid raising their hand during class. Many teens never date. Adults may hide the sweat stains by wearing layers of clothing or changing frequently throughout the day.
Who gets hyperhidrosis?
It is difficult to say how many people have excessive sweating. Many people never see a doctor. Some are too embarrassed to talk with a doctor. Others do not realize that this is a treatable medical condition. Dermatologists estimate that 3% of people in the United States have excessive sweating.
We know that some people are more likely to get hyperhidrosis. Researchers have learned that most people have one of the following:
When the excessive sweating occurs in one or two areas of the body, it is likely that a family member also has this condition. Many medical conditions can cause excessive sweating. These include diabetes and gout. A tumor or injury also can cause excessive sweating.
Women often sweat excessively when they get hot flashes during menopause. The cause is obvious. Some women, however, develop excessive sweating after they have gone through menopause. This sweating does not have an obvious cause.
People of all races get hyperhidrosis. The excessive sweating can begin at any age. For many people, it begins when they are a child or teen. Dermatologists believe that more children and adolescents have this condition than are diagnosed.
Whether you live in a cold climate or a warm one, you can have hyperhidrosis.
Certain nerves tell the body when to sweat. It is possible that these nerves overreact, causing excessive sweating.
To diagnose this condition, a dermatologist gives the patient a physical exam. This includes looking closely at the areas of the body that sweat excessively. A dermatologist also asks very specific questions. This helps the doctor understand why the patient has excessive sweating. Sometimes medical testing is necessary. Some patients require a test called the sweat test. This involves coating some of their skin with a powder that turns purple when the skin gets wet. To find an underlying medical condition, other medical tests may be necessary.
Treatment depends on the type of hyperhidrosis and where the excessive sweating occurs on the body. Your dermatologist also considers your overall health and other factors. Treatments that dermatologists use to help their patients control hyperhidrosis include: Botulinum toxin injections Your dermatologist can inject a weak form of this medicine into your underarms. To treat excessive sweating, a patient will need to have very tiny amounts injected in many areas of the underarms. When performed properly, patients have little pain or discomfort. Uses: Underarms The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved this treatment for the underarms. Findings from some research studies suggest that this treatment may be effective for other areas of the body. It may help post-menopausal women who sweat excessively on the head. It may be effective for excessive sweating that affects the hands and feet. How it works: The injections temporary block a chemical in the body that stimulates the sweat glands. Most patients notice results 4 to 5 days after receiving treatment. Reduced sweating lasts about 4 to 6 months — and sometimes longer. When the excessive sweating returns, you can be retreated. Side effects: The most common one is temporary muscle weakness, which can occur when this is injected into the hands. Prescription medicine Some patients receive a prescription for a medicine that temporarily prevents them from sweating. These medicines work throughout the body. How it works: These medicines prevent the sweat glands from working. Athletes, people who work in a hot place, and anyone who lives in a warm climate should use extreme caution when using this treatment. The body may not be able to cool itself. Uses: These medicines can effectively treat sweating that involves entire body. This medicine also can be an effective treatment for post-menopausal women who sweat excessively only from their head. Side effects: The medicines that prevent the sweat glands from working can cause:
• Dry mouth
• Dry eyes
• Blurry vision
• Heart palpations (abnormal heartbeat)
The risk of side effects increases with higher doses. Before taking this medicine, you should talk with your dermatologist about your individual risks and benefits.
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