Hyperhidrosis: Symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment

Hyperhidrosis, also known as polyhidrosis or sudorrhea, is a condition characterized by excessive sweating. The sweating can affect just one specific area or the whole body.

Although not life-threatening, it can be uncomfortable and cause embarrassment and psychological trauma.

In this article, we will look at the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of hyperhidrosis.

Fast facts on hyperhidrosis

Here are some key points about hyperhidrosis. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.

Hyperhidrosis tends to begin during adolescence

An estimated 7.8 million Americans have hyperhidrosis

Most commonly, the feet, hands, face, and armpits are affected

There are a number of remedies that can reduce symptoms

What is hyperhidrosis?

[Sweaty man in blue shirt]
Hyperhidrosis can be psychologically damaging.

The excessive sweating associated with hyperhidrosis is normally most active in the hands, feet, armpits, and the groin because of their relatively high concentration of sweat glands.

Focal hyperhidrosis: When the excessive sweating is localized. For example, palmoplantar hyperhidrosis is excessive sweating of the palms and soles.

Generalized hyperhidrosis: Excessive sweating affects the entire body.

Hyperhidrosis may be present from birth or might develop later in life. However, most cases of excessive sweating tend to start during a person’s teenage years.

The condition can be due to an underlying health condition, or have no apparent cause:

Primary idiopathic hyperhidrosis: “Idiopathic” means “of unknown cause.” In the majority of cases, the hyperhidrosis is localized.

Secondary hyperhidrosis: The person sweats too much because of an underlying health condition, such as obesity, gout, menopause, a tumor, mercury poisoning, diabetes mellitus, or hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland).

According to the International Hyperhidrosis Association, approximately 2.8 percent of Americans are affected by hyperhidrosis; that’s around 7.8 million people.

For some, hyperhidrosis symptoms are so severe that it becomes embarrassing, causing discomfort and anxiety. The patient’s career choices, free time activities, personal relationships, self-image, and emotional well-being may be affected.

Fortunately, there are several options which can treat symptoms effectively. The biggest challenge in treating hyperhidrosis is the significant number of people who do not seek medical advice, either due to embarrassment or because they do not know that effective treatment exists.

Symptoms

Hyperhidrosis is defined as sweating that disrupts normal activities. Episodes of excessive sweating occur at least once a week for no clear reason and have an effect on social life or daily activities.

[Sweaty woman in grey shirt]
Simple lifestyle changes can sometimes ease hyperhidrosis’ symptoms.

Signs and symptoms of hyperhidrosis may include:

Clammy or wet palms of the hands

Clammy or wet soles of the feet

Frequent sweating

Noticeable sweating that soaks through clothing

People with hyperhidrosis might experience the following:

Irritating and painful skin problems, such as fungal or bacterial infections

Worrying about having stained clothing

Reluctant to make physical contact

Self-conscious

Socially withdrawn, sometimes leading to depression

Select employment where physical contact or human interaction is not a job requirement

Spend a large amount of time each day dealing with sweat, such as changing clothes, wiping, placing napkins or pads under the arms, washing, wearing bulky, or dark clothes

Worry more than other people about body odor

Experts are not certain why, but excessive sweating during sleep is not common for people with primary hyperhidrosis (the type not linked to any underlying medical condition).

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[Sweaty man in grey shirt]
Primary hyperhidrosis appears to have a genetic component.

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