Hyperhidrosis is a medical condition that causes a person to sweat 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
- 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.
There are two main types of hyperhidrosis, primary (affecting the hands, feet and/or armpits) and secondary (affecting the entire body or one large area).
In the majority of cases of primary hyperhidrosis, the cause cannot 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:
- Anxiety disorders
- Blood sugar disorders
- Carcinoid syndrome
- Drug abuse
- Heart disease
- Lung disease
- Parkinson’s disease
- Spinal cord injury
While the most obvious sign of hyperhidrosis is sweating, your physician may conduct a number of tests to diagnose the cause of the excessive sweating. Your physician may ask you detailed questions about your sweating, trying to determine patterns, locations, triggers and other factors that may be contributing to it. Diagnostic tests 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 physician determine the location of the problem areas
While hyperhidrosis may cause embarrassment and inconvenience, it can sometimes be an indicator of a serious medical condition. If you experience prolonged, excessive or unexplained sweating, you should consult a physician for a diagnosis.
Treatments for hyperhidrosis include:
- Antiperspirants: Your physician may recommend a clinical-grade 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 physician about this treatment.
- Endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy: This minimally invasive surgery may be used in severe cases of hyperhidrosis, if all other treatments fail.