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What Is Excessive Sweating a Sign Of?

What Is Excessive Sweating a Sign Of?

Almost 5% of the total American population battles with excessive sweating, some in relatively uncomfortable silence.

Because most people are unaware that this condition is real, the number of affected people could actually be higher.

Excessive sweating is a treatable and manageable medical condition, also known as hyperhidrosis.

Hyperhidrosis occurs when a person develops excessive, sometimes unexplainable sweating in strange moments. The weather might be relatively cool and their stress levels low but without warning, sweat appears.

There are medical conditions associated with excessive sweating, such as an overactive thyroid gland or menopause.

Understandably, hyperhidrosis can cause the sufferer a world of stress and anxiety, but there are options available to help ease or eliminate the discomfort.

What Are the Different Kinds of Excessive Sweating?

It is natural for the human body to produce sweat as a counter to certain conditions that increase temperatures like heat, stress, physical exertion, fear, or humidity.

In the case of unexplained excessive sweating, there might be an underlying condition, depending on the nature and presentation of the hyperhidrosis.

Primary Focal Hyperhidrosis

Approximately 30-50% of people are affected by this type of hyperhidrosis, mainly linked to genetics. It sometimes begins in early childhood.

It is characterized by sweating on the head, face, hands, armpits, and feet.

Secondary Generalized Hyperhidrosis

This type of excessive sweating usually presents in adulthood. It is associated with medical conditions or as a side effect of certain medications and treatments.

People affected by secondary generalized hyperhidrosis either sweat all over their bodies, or in one central body surface. There have been cases of people sweating at rest, completely stationary, or even during swimming.

Known medical conditions that may lead to secondary generalized hyperhidrosis include:

  • Infectious diseases such as HIV or tuberculosis
  • Stroke
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Cardiac disease
  • Cancer
  • Disorders affecting the adrenal gland
  • Lung disease
  • Parkinson’s disease

The most effective way to treat sweating caused by secondary generalized hyperhidrosis is by finding the underlying medical condition and managing it directly.

Certain over-the-counter and prescription drugs can cause this type of excessive sweating. For example, this specific side effect has been noted in patients using antidepressants such as:

  • Norpramin or desipramine
  • Pamelor or nortriptyline
  • Protriptyline

Additionally, people taking zinc as a mineral dietary supplement or those using pilocarpine to treat dry mouth can also experience excessive sweating.

What Is Classified as Excessive Sweating?

The following symptoms may determine whether or not a person can be diagnosed with excessive sweating:

  • Continuous, unexplainable, and excessive sweating for at least six months.
  • An equal amount of sweat, often occurring on both sides of a person’s body.
  • Cases of excessive sweating occurring at least once per week.
  • Sweating so severe that it interferes with quality of social life and day to day activities, including work.
  • Excessive sweating presenting in a person younger than 25 years of age.
  • A family history of hyperhidrosis.

The above symptoms link directly to primary focal hyperhidrosis.

Conversely, sweating all over the body or excessively sweating in one localized area might point to secondary generalized hyperhidrosis.

However, it is always advisable to consult a medical doctor for accurate diagnosis, particularly because some ailments linked to excessive sweating can be life-threatening.

When Should One Consult a Doctor Regarding Excessive Sweating?

Due to the associated risk to life, one should immediately consult a doctor as soon as they notice excessive sweating in addition to symptoms such as:

  • Accelerated heart rate, fever, chest pain, and shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or a sensation of pressure in the chest
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Sheet-drenching sweat during sleep

The Process of Diagnosis

To begin, the consulting physician may ask you some exploratory questions regarding your symptoms. 

Aside from patient history and physical examination, there are other specific tests to confirm a diagnosis, although they aren’t usually administered in daily practice.

Examples are:

The starch-iodine test: administered on areas where sweat occurs. If the starch turns dark blue upon drying, the diagnosis is confirmed.

The paper test: a special paper also administered in the sweaty area. If this paper records a higher weight after absorbing the sweat, the diagnosis is confirmed.

The thermoregulatory test: comparable to the starch-iodine test. The difference being the use of a special moisture-sensitive powder. A color change on this powder confirms the diagnosis.

The sauna test: where the patient sits in a sweat cabinet or sauna. Should their palms sweat more than usual, confirmation of hyperhidrosis is highly likely.

How to Treat Excessive Sweating

Primary focal hyperhidrosis is correctable, and a doctor should be able to design a suitable treatment plan to help manage and eliminate symptoms.

For the management of secondary generalized hyperhidrosis, barring medical conditions, a doctor should be able to change medications or lower dosages causing this as a side effect.

Here are some home remedies that can alleviate excessive sweating:

  • Over the counter antiperspirants
  • Frequent showers or bathing daily to minimize bacteria
  • Wearing clothing, undergarments, shoes, and socks made from organic or natural materials
  • Reducing the number of times feet are enclosed, wearing open shoes or sandals
  • Frequently changing socks or footwear

Other treatment options a doctor may prescribe include:

Specialized Antiperspirants

The doctor may likely prescribe an antiperspirant containing aluminum chloride.

They are stronger than regular store-bought antiperspirants and are frequently used to treat mild cases of hyperhidrosis.


Photo: iontophoresis

This is a special procedure involving the use of low-level electric currents which are administered to the affected areas while the patient is submerged in water.

The current is targeted towards the hands, feet, or underarms to temporarily block the overactive sweat glands.

Anticholinergic Drugs

Anticholinergic drugs such as glycopyrrolate (Robinul), are primarily used to provide relief for generalized sweating. These drugs work by inhibiting acetylcholine, the chemical that stimulates the body’s sweat glands.

Anticholinergic drugs take approximately two weeks to work. They do, however, have other related side effects including dizziness and constipation.

Botox Treatments

Botulinum toxins, commonly referred to as Botox injections, are used in the treatment of extreme cases of excessive sweating.

Similar to anticholinergic drugs, Botox treatments act by blocking the nerves that stimulate sweat glands.

For this treatment to be effective, a person usually needs several injections.

Surgical Procedures

Surgery is often advised as a last-resort treatment for excessive sweating.

One option involves the complete removal of armpit sweat glands. Another option is an endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy, which is a procedure that essentially cuts off messaging from the nerves that “communicate” to sweat glands.

Take Control

Sweat is a normal biological human function. Given the fluidity of life, social, biological or even environmental changes may cause the body to lose its equilibrium.

There is always a solution.

For guaranteed sweat protection and comfort from humid days, high-activity hobbies or the occasional subway ride, a quality undershirt like Sweatshield is a must-have closet staple.

Photo: Flickr