There are two main types of hyperhidrosis: primary focal hyperhidrosis and secondary generalized hyperhidrosis. How you get hyperhidrosis depends on which type you have. Primary focal hyperhidrosis seems to be caused by a mix of genetic and other less understood factors, while secondary generalized hyperhidrosis is caused by either a medication, a physiological condition, or a disease.
Primary focal hyperhidrosis is thought to be hereditary; someone with hyperhidrosis gets it from their parents due to their genetics. Somewhere between 30% and 65% of people with hyperhidrosis have a positive family history, meaning they have relatives with the disorder. It is thought to be an autosomal dominant condition which means that a person only has to inherit the gene from one parent to get hyperhidrosis. It is not know whether other factors in a person’s life can make them more or less likely to develop the disease. Primary focal hyperhidrosis is often referred to as “idiopathic” which means that a disease occurs suddenly for an unknown reason. So, for the most part, we do not know why some people get primary focal hyperhidrosis. Interestingly, people with hyperhidrosis have sweat glands that are morphologically the same as the average person and they have the same number of sweat glands. Scientists suspect that hyperhidrosis is caused by issues in the sympathetic nervous system, a branch of the autonomic nervous system, that is used by the body to activate the “fight or flight” response. It is thought that the sympathetic nervous system of people with hyperhidrosis is overactive which causes them to have overactive sweat glands. This is a simplified explanation of the disease process as it is more complicated and deals with many aspects of the nervous system.
It is much easier to explain how people get secondary generalized hyperhidrosis. This type of hyperhidrosis is caused by medication or secondary hyperhidrosis can be caused by a disease or physiological condition. The most common reason people develop secondary hyperhidrosis is as a side effect of a medication. Several common medications like antidepressants, painkillers (OTC and prescription), thyroid medication, allergy medications, heart and blood pressure medications, and more have hyperhidrosis as a potential side effect. Withdrawal from certain medications can also cause some people to experience excessive sweating. Hyperhidrosis can also result from alcohol intoxication or withdrawal. Sometimes, a physiological condition like pregnancy, menopause, or a fever can cause hyperhidrosis. Other times the cause of hyperhidrosis is pathological as diseases like specific cancers, hyperthyroidism, tuberculosis, HIV, endocarditis, autonomic dysreflexia, and others cause excessive sweating.
Overall, it is quite easy to develop hyperhidrosis. You can get it from genetics, unknown factors, medications, drugs, normal physiological conditions, and even diseases. With upwards of 3% of the population suffering from hyperhidrosis this is not surprising.
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- Pariser, D. M. (2014). Hyperhidrosis (4th ed., Vol. 32). Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier.
- Huddle, J. R. (2014). Hyperhidrosis: Causes, Treatment Options and Outcomes. New York, NY: Nova Science.