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Hyperhidrosis: No Joking Matter

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Many of us can remember breaking out in a cold sweat before delivering our first assignment in speech class, or rubbing the moisture off our palms before holding hands with our high school boyfriend. But for those who suffer these experiences frequently and dramatically, overactive sweat glands are no laughing matter.

In medical circles, the condition is called “hyperhidrosis,” and the generally accepted definition is excessive sweating beyond what’s is required to cool the body. Hyperhidrosis tends to run in families, and while the condition was once thought to be rare, according to the Mayo Clinic around 2.8% of the U.S. population has hyperhidrosis.

How can you tell if your own pattern of sweating is beyond normal? You may have hyperhidrosis if you experience:

• Excessive sweating once a week or more without apparent reason
• Sweating that’s noticeable, to the point of soaking through clothes
• Excessive moisture on your hands, feet, armpits and/or face and head

Doctors generally believe that episodes of excessive sweating are triggered by emotions, but they don’t exactly understand why. They do know how to treat hyperhidrosis, however. Most physicians will recommend a patient first try a clinical strength over-the-counter antiperspirant. If this option proves ineffective, or if the patient has already gone that route, a doctor will probably prescribe a topical treatment with aluminum chloride. He or she may prescribe an oral medication instead or in addition to topical treatment.

A treatment that works for some people, according to the Mayo Clinic, is “iontophoresis.” Patients use a battery-powered device to zap hands, feet or armpits with a low level of electrical current. The procedure needs to be repeated after several weeks.

BOTOX Cosmetic® has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for hyperhidrosis. It can be injected into the armpits or palms to block the nerves that connect to sweat glands. This remedy is also temporary.

When all else fails, surgery can be an option. Mayo Clinic physicians perform surgery on 30 to 40 patients each year using one of three approaches: interrupting nerve signals that trigger sweating by placing tiny clips on the nerves, severing the nerves completely or removing sweat glands.

Note that excessive sweating can be a symptom or secondary effect of a serious condition such as malignant cancer or a neurological or endocrine disorder. If you suspect you have hyperhidrosis but you're not sure about consulting a doctor, this is another good reason to make an appointment.

Add a Comment4 Comments

EmpowHER Guest

Thanks for the article and posts. I am a big fan of www.SweatHelp.org for info on hyperhidrosis. It's run by the non-profit International Hyperhidrosis Society and they have in-depth discussions on all the treatment options for hyperhidrosis. In the article posted here, you see that the author notes iontophoresis device as 'battery powered'. Well, those devices simply do not work well and many folks then conclude that iontophoresis treatment doesn't work well. But in reality, it's because the battery-powered devices aren't strong enough. Instead, try the stronger ones that are discussed on the IHHS site. They work for the overwhelming majority of those who are trained and use it diligently. Further, the IHHS recently issued a long article discussing all the pros and cons of surgical options for hyperhidrosis. Look on their home page and click on the full story link. While you are there, you should subscribe to their free newsletter. Each issue has big announcements on the latest research, featured physicians, and what's new in treatment. I know you will be pleased with their support and resources. Cheers!

October 15, 2009 - 8:39am

I hope you can help her! Sounds like she needs you!

You might want to check out the Mayo Clinic's Web site and search on "hyperhidrosis." I really love that site--it has clear, easy to understand entries covering conditions, causes, treatments etc. It seems like they are pretty advanced in treating hyperhidrosis among many other common problems.

In any case, maybe you could volunteer to take your niece to an experienced doctor? There are many options to try. Good luck to both of you.

October 15, 2009 - 8:25am

Thanks for your post. I was listening to the radio the other day about a treatment for hyperhidrosis and was curious as to what it was because my niece has severe hyperhidrosis yet she has never been diagnosed because my sister conveniently forgets to mention it to the doctor. She is 13 years old and her hands and feet sweat profusely to the point where you can see the sweat come up in her hands right after she cleans them. I am not sure why she has it since no one in our family or her fathers family seems to have this. I would love to find some type of treatment for her since she is coming to the age when boys will start to pop into the picture and she constantly asks me how she'll be able to hold a boys hand if she sweats so much. :-(

Thanks again. If I can find something to help her, I will be sure to post a share.

October 15, 2009 - 6:04am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Rosa Cabrera RN)

Hey there--Have you requested the free Teen Sweat book from www.SweatHelp.org for your neice? Just go in their Teen section and send in your request. The program has won tons of awards and everyone seems to really love the book. It was developed to specifically address the needs of kids with excessive sweating who don't know where to turn for help and feel totally isolated. Your neice will feel comforted by knowing that she's not alone.

October 15, 2009 - 8:43am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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