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What Causes Excessive Sweating?

Sweat serves an important natural function in our bodies, reducing our internal temperature when things get too hot. However, some individuals find themselves perspiring in circumstances that wouldn’t typically call for it. It’s one thing to sweat while exercising, severely stressed, or spending time in a sauna — it’s another to sweat while simply sitting in a climate-controlled room or relaxing in a swimming pool. The technical term for excessive sweating is hyperhidrosis, and while it only affects between 1-2% of the population, those who suffer from it are constantly seeking relief.

Let’s explore what causes excessive sweating in the first place, and how those with hyperhidrosis can mitigate their body’s overzealous perspiration.

What to Know About Excessive Sweating

Underlying Health Conditions that May Cause Excessive Sweating

Our bodies are complex, interconnected machines, meaning that a single problem can lead to several others. For instance, various health conditions may trigger a response that results in excessive sweating. When sweat glands overact as a symptom of an underlying disease or medical reality, it is known as secondary hyperhidrosis. This form of hyperhidrosis may be triggered by:

  • Fever
  • Infection
  • Anxiety Disorder
  • Stress
  • Endocarditis
  • Diabetes
  • Leukemia
  • Heart Attack
  • Heat Exhaustion
  • Malaria
  • Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma
  • Gout
  • Obesity
  • Tuberculosis
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Pregnancy
  • Menopause
  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Certain Medications (i.e. beta blockers, antidepressants, and more)

Because secondary hyperhidrosis is linked to a deeper health issue, treating it often depends on properly treating the underlying problem. That said, there are ways to treat excessive sweating in isolation as well, regardless of the root cause.

Primary Hyperhidrosis: Uncontrollable Sweating Without an Underlying Medical Cause

Excessive sweating is not always a symptom of another issue. Primary hyperhidrosis refers to uncontrollable sweating that lacks an underlying medical cause. Medical researchers are still trying to figure out what exactly causes primary hyperhidrosis, but they have discovered the mechanism: in normal circumstances, specific nerves activate our sweat glands when our bodies begin to overheat. For those with primary hyperhidrosis, however, these nerves for some reason become overactive and may switch the sweat glands on when it’s not necessary. As for why these nerves malfunction in the first place, many doctors believe genetics play a role, but the full story has yet to be uncovered.

Both primary and secondary hyperhidrosis tend to affect one’s hands, feet, and underarms more than other areas of the body, though this varies from one patient to the next. Additionally, hyperhidrosis isn’t always consistent — some patients experience excessive sweating nearly every day, while others experience symptoms in waves, sometimes finding relief for weeks or months before undergoing another outbreak.

How to Stop Excessive Sweating

As of now, there is no definitive cure for excessive sweating. That said, hyperhidrosis can be treated in more ways than one.

Those suffering from primary hyperhidrosis might benefit from antiperspirants containing aluminum, which can be purchased over the counter or prescribed by a doctor. For a more targeted approach, anticholinergics directly affect nerve signals that activate sweat glands.

Patients might also consider receiving a low-intensity electrical current treatment called iontophoresis, which involves submerging the affected areas (i.e. hands, feet, armpits) in water that is then electrified with a mild current.

Another treatment option, miraDry® is a non-invasive, FDA-approved thermal treatment that delivers heat to the sweat glands found in the underarm area and eliminates them, offering immediate and often permanent results. Botox injections may also be administered to mitigate excessive underarm sweating.

And lastly, if all other treatments fail, surgery is available to remove problematic sweat glands or destroy nerves that induce sweating (thoracic sympathectomy). These surgeries are last resorts for patients who can find relief no other way.

Don’t Sweat It

While a sweating problem is not inherently dangerous, it can diminish one’s self-esteem, interfere with one’s professional and social lives, and point to more serious health concerns. So, if you’re tired of sweating the small stuff, the experts at Premier Dermatology Partners can help you regain control of your body’s responses. To learn more about our providers and all the services we offer, contact us today.

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