Everyone sweats. It’s the body’s way of cooling itself down when it gets overheated from exercise or a warm environment. It can also be a side effect of being nervous or afraid. However, if you find yourself sweating a lot when you’re not active or hot, you may have hyperhidrosis, or excessive sweating. Excessive sweating has a number of causes, and while there is no hyperhidrosis cure, getting the proper diagnosis can lead to effective treatments. Find out the primary causes of hyperhidrosis and some of the steps you can take to treat your sweating.
The first warning sign that you have a problem with excessive sweating is if you frequently (more than 1x/week) sweat when you are not engaged in physical activity or are overheated. Most people with hyperhidrosis sweat from one or two parts of the body, such as the head, underarms, hands or feet. Typically most of the body will stay dry, while the area affected will drip with sweat. Another sign is the amount of sweat -- hyperhidrosis causes sweat to soak your clothing or, if your hands are sweaty, even makes it hard to hold a pen. This amount of sweat may cause your skin to be soft, white and peeling. Because of the amount of sweat and the prolonged periods that parts of your body stay wet, you may be more prone to skin infections like jock itch. And you are also probably subject to social embarrassment from the excessive and uncontrolled sweating.
Primary focal hyperhidrosis is the most common form of excessive sweating. It has no known medical cause and usually starts in childhood or adolescence. The nerves that trigger your sweat glands to produce sweat have become overactive and produce even more sweat when you become nervous or stressed. This type of sweating usually happens in the daytime and often affects the hands and feet. It is probable that primary focal hyperhidrosis is caused by genetic factors, as it tends to run in families.
Secondary hyperhidrosis describes excessive sweating that is caused by an underlying medical condition or as a side effect to a medication. This type of hyperhidrosis is more likely to result in sweating all over the body and often happens at night.
Menopausal hot flashes are well-known to cause excessive sweating. This type of sweating also occurs in the transitional time before menopause called perimenopause. As a woman’s body prepares for menopause, her estrogen levels rise and fall considerably. The hormonal fluctuation causes the sudden onset of a warm feeling and accompanying sweating. The best way to reduce discomfort from menopausal sweating is to dress in layers, find ways to cool yourself down like sitting in front of a fan or opening a window, lowering the thermostat, and eating non-spicy and cool foods and beverages.
Like menopause, pregnancy is time for hormone levels to fluctuate wildly, resulting in many pregnant women experiencing hyperhidrosis, especially in their first and third trimesters and postpartum. Pregnancy also causes increased blood flow throughout the body, causing the expectant mom to feel warmer and be more likely to sweat. Thankfully, once you’ve delivered your baby and your hormones have evened out after the postpartum period, the excessive sweating should disappear.
Like menopause, hyperthyroidism disrupts the normal levels of hormones in your body. It occurs when your body produces too much of the hormone thyroxine, which helps to regulate things like your metabolism, body temperature and heart rate. If you have excessive sweating because of hyperthyroidism, you probably also have other symptoms like heart palpitations, sudden loss of weight, heat intolerance, tremors, fatigue, changes in bowel habits or menstrual patterns. Women are more likely to develop hyperthyroidism. Hyperthyroidism can be serious, leading to heart problems, brittle bones and eye problems. It is important that you see a doctor for your excessive sweating -- it could be caused by an overactive thyroid. Thankfully, hyperthyroidism is easily treated and managed with medication.
Excessive sweating can be a symptom of diabetes. Diabetes is a condition that affects how your body uses blood sugar, or glucose. Diabetes can cause low blood sugar levels, which then prompts a flight or fight response. This response triggers the release of certain hormones, like adrenaline, that cause excessive sweating. Prolonged times of low blood sugar can damage the nerves, including those that control the sweat glands, a condition called neuropathy. Neuropathy that affects the sweat glands often results in too little or too much sweating. It’s important that you visit your doctor if your hyperhidrosis is because of your diabetes. Frequently diabetes-caused hyperhidrosis is a sign that your diabetes is poorly managed and that you need assistance in balancing your blood sugar levels.
Sudden and excessive sweating can signal that a heart attack is occurring. In fact, this symptom is often what prompts people to seek medical attention for a heart attack. When the blood supply that usually nourishes the heart is cut off, a heart attack occurs. This also causes the nervous system to go into fight or flight response, which leads to sudden hot flashes and/or sweating. Knowing the other common symptoms of a heart attack can help save a life: sudden shortness of breath; pain in the arm, neck, shoulder, chest or back; a squeezing, tightening or high pressure sensation in the chest. If you have any of these signs with or without excessive sweating, get immediate medical attention.
Hyperhidrosis can result from obesity, or having a BMI of 30 or higher. Obese people sweat more becasue of a few reasons. They have to physically exert themselves more to perform daily activities and are more likely to get overheated. They also have low surface area related to their weight, so their body has to work harder to cool itself down, leading to more sweating.
Some kinds of infections cause hyperhidrosis. The most common are tuberculosis, HIV, bone infection (osteomyelitis), or an abscess. Certain types of cancer, like lymphoma and malignant tumors can trigger hyperhidrosis. Spinal cord injuries are also known to lead to excessive sweating.
Medications, like those used to treat high blood pressure and psychiatric conditions, can lead to excessive sweating. Talk to your doctor to see if the medications you are on could lead to hyperhidrosis. They may be able to prescribe an alternative medicine that won’t cause excessive sweating.
Contact Vanguard Dermatology in the greater New York City area. The board-certified dermatologist at Vanguard will help to determine the cause of your excessive sweating and provide a hyperhidrosis treatment plan.