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Hyperhidrosis

(Excessive Sweating)

Pronounced: Hi-per-hi-dro-sis

Definition

Hyperhidrosis is excessive sweating. It can be an embarrassing and serious problem. It can affect social, professional, and intimate relationships.

The sweating may be in just one area. It is most common in the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and/or armpits. In some cases, the sweating can also affect the entire body. Hyperhidrosis is divided into two categories:

  • Primary hyperhidrosis:
    • Usually affects specific areas
    • Has no known cause
  • Secondary hyperhidrosis:
    • Usually affects the entire body
    • Caused by an underlying condition

Sweat Gland

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Causes    TOP

Primary hyperhidrosis may be triggered by:

  • High emotional states, such as intense sadness, fear, anger, or stress
  • Spicy foods
  • Hot climates
  • Certain medications

Secondary hyperhidrosis may be caused by conditions such as:

Risk Factors    TOP

Factors that increase your chance of secondary hyperhidrosis are the conditions that cause it (listed above).

Symptoms    TOP

Symptoms include:

  • Excessive sweating of palms of the hands and/or soles of the feet
  • Excessive sweating of the armpits, head, and/or face
  • Increased amount of sweating
  • Change in pattern of sweating
  • Change in the odor associated with sweating
  • Stained clothing

Diagnosis    TOP

You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

A starch-iodine test is often used on the armpits. It may be used to determine the areas with the most active sweat glands.

Tests may be done if your doctor is concerned that you may have a specific medical condition.

Treatment    TOP

Treatment includes:

Lifestyle Changes

To help decrease the uncomfortable feeling and odor associated with sweating, try:

  • Frequent clothing changes
  • Careful washing

Topical Treatments

A number of treatments can be applied to decrease sweating in a particular area. These include:

  • Aluminum chloride hexahydrate
  • Aluminum tetrachloride
  • Formalin compresses
  • Glutaraldehyde compresses
  • Iontophoresis (stimulation with electrical current)—needs to be repeated on a daily or weekly basis, eventually tapering off to every 1-2 weeks; may be used if prescription antiperspirants fail

Medications    TOP

Medications are usually used for secondary hyperhidrosis. They are rarely used due to their side effects, but may include:

  • Amitriptyline
  • Clonazepam
  • Beta blockers
  • Calcium channel blockers
  • Gabapentin
  • Oxybutynin
  • Indomethacin

Botulinum A Neurotoxin    TOP

This is the toxin produced by the bacteria that causes botulism. Injections of this toxin can decrease sweating in certain areas. It is often used on the palms of the hands and armpits. The effect of one cycle of injections may last for 6-8 months for most patients.

Surgery    TOP

  • Endoscopic thoracic or lumbar sympathectomy—the destruction of nerves that stimulate sweating
  • Curettage—local removal of sweat glands via surgical scraping
  • Ultrasound
  • Liposuction techniques

Prevention    TOP

There are no known ways to prevent hyperhidrosis.

RESOURCES:

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
http://www.familydoctor.org
International Hyperhidrosis Society
http://www.sweathelp.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES

References:

Baumgartner FJ. Surgical approaches and techniques in the management of severe hyperhidrosis. Thorac Surg Clin. 2008;18(2):167-181.
Commons GW, Lim AF. Treatment of Axillary Hyperhidrosis/Bromidrosis Using VASER Ultrasound. Aesthetic Plast Surg. 2009 Jan 3.
Local injection of botulinum toxin A for palmar hyperhidrosis: usefulness and efficacy in relation to severity. Yamashita N, Shimizu H, Kawada M, Yanagishita T, Watanabe D, Tamada Y, Matsumoto Y. J Dermatol. 2008;35(6):325-329.
Saenz JW, Sams RW 2nd, et al. FPIN's clinical inquiries. Treatment of hyperhidrosis. Am Fam Physician. 2011;83(4):465-466.
Solish N, Bertucci V, et al. A comprehensive approach to the recognition, diagnosis, and severity-based treatment of focal hyperhidrosis: recommendations of the Canadian Hyperhidrosis Advisory Committee. Dermatol Surg. 2007;33(8):908–923.
Treatment of hyperhidrosis. Dermatologic Clinics. 1998 Oct.
Last reviewed May 2015 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 3/17/2014

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