The Causes of Excessive Sweating

If you’ve noticed you seemed to be sweating excessively lately, you are probably wondering why. Excessive sweating, also known as hyperhidrosis, can be an embarrassing problem to deal with. Your excessive sweating may be a short-term problem caused by an underlying condition or it could be a lifelong struggle that can affect you mentally as well as physically and emotionally.

While sweating is a bodily function, and one that is useful for thermoregulation, for some people, it’s much more than that. Sometimes, sweat can be extreme, embarrassing, and uncomfortable. There are two to four million sweat glands in your body, and with that many overactive sweat glands a body can produce a lot of moisture.[1]

People with hyperhidrosis don’t have more sweat glands than other people do, but they are more active, leading to an increased amount of sweat.

If you’re concerned about how much sweat you’re experiencing and the potential reasons for it, then take a look at some common causes behind this condition.

Facts About Hyperhidrosis

Approximately 5 percent of the population suffers from this condition that causes excessive sweating, but that’s only the reported estimate. Some experts believe the actual percentage is much higher than that – with some estimates at 12 percent in the U.S. [1]

It can be a difficult problem to deal with because it can affect every area of your life, including:

  • Your relationships.
  • Your anxiety levels.
  • Your work and productivity.
  • Which leisure activities you pursue.
  • Your self-esteem.

There are two main types of hyperhidrosis:

  • Primary Focal Hyperhidrosis: This is the most common kind – up to 90 percent of people with hyperhidrosis have this type. It usually begins in childhood or adolescence. It does not signal there is any kind of underlying medical condition.
  • Secondary Generalized Hyperhidrosis: also known as Diaphoresis, is a rarer form of hyperhidrosis. Secondary hyperhidrosis is caused by a disease or condition, including some of the conditions mentioned later in this article, or a medication. It tends to show up suddenly during adulthood. [2]

Hyperhidrosis can cause sweating all over the body, including in the underarms, hands, feet , face, scalp, under the breasts, and the groin. Some people with hyperhidrosis sweat in only one area, while others sweat in more than one location. The most common areas hyperhidrosis affects are the hands, underarms, and feet. It is also important to note that some people can experience excessive sweating that develops from trauma. This type of sweating is called compensatory sweating when it results from endoscopic thoracic surgery. Another type, called gustatory sweating develops after trauma to the face and it causes people to sweat while eating.

Hyperhidrosis can have a huge impact on the quality of life of those who suffer from it. Primary focal hyperhidrosis, for instance, tends to kick in right around the teenage years for many sufferers. That can amplify the emotional turmoil teenagers are already feeling.

There are treatments to help with the condition though. They include:

  • Antiperspirants: Antiperspirant is an important tool for those with hyperhidrosis. Antiperspirant differs from deodorant as antiperspirant actually blocks sweat from escaping to the surface of the skin, rather than just masking its smell. You can get prescription-strength antiperspirants that will work better than the over-the-counter topical treatments for hyperhidrosis. They contain aluminum chloride or another type of partially neutralized metallic salt, and stay on your skin for up to 8 hours generally.
  • Treatments with an iontophoresis machine: Iontophoresis is for the treatment of palmar and plantar hyperhidrosis. This is a low-intensity treatment that uses electrical currents. The low-voltage currents are sent into a pan of water in which your hands or feet sit. The current can cut back on the activity of your sweat glands. You might need to use this as many as 10 times in the beginning before your sweat glands are deactivated. After that, you’ll use it to maintain your results. Iontophoresis really does work, but some need to learn how to make iontophoresis more effective in order to get it to work for them.
  • Botox injections: This won’t work on large areas of sweat and is best when only used in certain sweat-producing hotspots. Botox excels as a treatment for axillary hyperhidrosis, but can also be used as a treatment for palmar and plantar hyperhidrosis. You’ll have reduced sweating for up to six months. For it to be effective though, you have to find a professional who can pinpoint the sweat glands and inject them with the Botox.
  • Anticholinergics: These oral medications for hyperhidrosis can cut back on how much sweat you experience by affecting the nerve signals to your sweat glands. Most commonly, glycopyrrolate or oxybutynin are used to treat excessive sweating. But the medications do come with some side effects. You may or may not experience the side effects, including dry mouth, blurry vision, and heart palpitations.
  • Endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy surgery: This is a surgical treatment for primary focal hyperhidrosis in which they disconnect the nerve connections to your sweat glands. If they aren’t there at all, they can’t cause excessive sweating. But before you decide this is the method you want to pursue, you should look into the risks so you can make an educated decision. The risks include an infection after surgery, scarring, nerve damage, and compensatory sweating. There is also a surgery called endoscopic lumbar sympathectomy that can treat plantar hyperhidrosis, but it is almost never recommended and is considered unsafe by many. [2]

Hyperthyroidism

Your thyroid, the little butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of your neck, can be underactive or it can be overactive.

If it is underactive it’s known as hypothyroidism. That means your thyroid isn’t making enough hormones for your body. This condition causes many symptoms both internally and externally, including fatigue, dry skin, puffy face, weight gain, thinning hair, high cholesterol, and muscle aches.

On the flip side, if your thyroid is overactive, it’s known as hyperthyroidism. That means your body is producing too much of the hormone thyroxine.

Excessive sweating is one of the symptoms you’ll have with this condition. Other symptoms may include weight loss, rapid heartbeat, nervousness, and irritability.

If you suspect hyperthyroidism is the reason for your excessive sweating, you can be tested for it with a blood test that looks at your levels of TSH and thyroxine. There are treatments available for hyperthyroidism, including medication, surgery, and radioactive iodine. [1]

Medications

If you’ve started to sweat excessively since making a medication change, you might want to investigate it further. While most medications don’t produce sweating as a side effect, some common medications can cause hyperhidrosis. But not everyone who takes a certain medication will be affected in that way. So even if that medicine is known to cause sweating, you might take it and be perfectly fine with no sweating in sight.

Some examples of medications that may make you sweat include:

  • Some high blood pressure medicines.
  • Certain psychiatric drugs.
  • Medicines for dry mouth.
  • Certain antibiotics.
  • Various supplements.

If you are experiencing excessive sweating and you suspect a medication, you can talk to your doctor about whether there’s a substitute medication you could try instead. [1],[4]

Cancer

A serious cause of excessive sweating can be certain kinds of cancer. Although doctors can’t say for certain why excessive sweating occurs with particular cancers, it can.

Some of the kinds of cancer that might cause excessive sweating include:

  • Liver.
  • Leukemia.
  • Mesothelioma.
  • Bone cancer.
  • Lymphoma.

Other cancers can also cause heavy sweating, if they are in an advanced stage.

On the flip side, it has also been rumored that one of the primary treatments for hyperhidrosis, aluminum antiperspirants can cause cancer - but that is simply untrue.

Glucose Issues

People who have problems with glucose levels that drop too low can also have excessive sweating. That includes diabetics, no matter which kind they suffer from – Type 1, Type 2, or gestational diabetes during pregnancy.

It can also happen to people who suffer from hypoglycemia, which is a condition that causes low blood sugar.

With glucose issues, the excessive sweating will correct itself once your blood sugar stabilizes.

Menopause

This cause of excessive sweating obviously only applies to women. Up to 75 percent of women going through menopause and even some in perimenopause say they experience hot flashes, heavy sweating, and night sweats.

Experts believe excessive sweating during menopause happens because of dropping estrogen levels.

Anxiety

Extreme anxiety can cause heavy sweating, and often, people with hyperhidrosis also experience anxiety. If you’re worried or anxious about something, like delivering a public speech, hyperhidrosis symptoms can become exacerbated. This phenonemon is also known as stress sweating.

Obesity or Overeating

Not all overweight people sweat excessively but being obese can cause you to sweat heavily. If you’ve noticed your sweat ramping up as you’ve gained a few pounds, it may be one of the causes for it.

If you’re carrying excess weight and think it might be causing your hyperhidrosis, you can try to control your weight through diet and exercise and see if that helps.

Parkinson’s Disease

When you have Parkinson’s disease, your excessive sweat may manifest when the drugs you take for your condition begin to wear off. If you have Parkinson’s you might also notice you’re more prone to sweating at night.

Rheumatoid arthritis

With rheumatoid arthritis, you may not always experience excessive sweating. You might find you have severe sweating at certain times, while it seems to go away at other times.

In addition to excessive sweating, some of the other symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include:

  • Joint pain and swelling.
  • Fatigue.
  • Stiffness.
  • Flu-like symptoms.

Infection

Certain infections may cause excessive sweating, such as endocarditis, which is an infection that attacks the inner lining of the heart.

Another one that tends to cause extreme sweat is tuberculosis. It tends to cause heavy night sweats in particular that seem to completely drench your clothes.

Gout

Gout is listed as a cause for hyperhidrosis. Gout is caused by having too much uric acid in the blood. That uric acid forms crystals under your skin and in your joints.

The telltale symptoms of gout, in addition to heavy sweating, include swelling, pain, and tender joints.

Pregnancy

Pregnancy is a common cause of heavy sweating, particularly in late pregnancy as your body has to adjust to the new load it’s carrying. If you’re pregnant and notice your sweat has been soaking through your clothes lately, there is no cause for alarm. For many women, this is a normal part of pregnancy.

Your excessive sweating in this case should resolve shortly after you give birth. [1],[4]

How To Handle Excessive Sweating

If you’ve noticed an increase lately when it comes to how much sweat you’re putting out, pay attention to your body and note if you notice any other symptoms that accompany the sweating. It is a good idea to learn everything you might need to know about hyperhidrosis and it’s possible causes in your body.

If you’ve always been a heavy sweater, you may have primary focal hyperhidrosis. The treatments listed above in this article may give you some some ideas for how to manage your sweat. There are many strategies to manage your hyperhidrosis at home or use alternative methods to treat symptoms.

But if excessive sweating is a new or recent situation for you, look at the list of possible conditions that might be causing it. If you’re concerned you might have an underlying medical condition, it might be wise to check in with your doctor to hear their opinion about what you should do next.

While many causes of excessive sweating are harmless, some should be further investigated and possibly managed by a doctor.

Sources
  1. Pariser, D. M. (2014). Hyperhidrosis (4th ed., Vol. 32). Amsterdam: Elsevier Pub. Co., 2014. Retrieved
  2. Nordqvist, C. (2017, December 21). Hyperhidrosis: Symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment. Retrieved May 14, 2018, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/182130.php
  3. Kamudoni, P., Mueller, B., Halford, J., Schouveller, A., Stacey, B., & Salek, M. (2017, June 8). The impact of hyperhidrosis on patients' daily life and quality of life: A qualitative investigation. Retrieved May 21, 2018, from https://hqlo.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12955-017-0693-x
  4. Symposium on Anticholinergic Drug and Brain Functions in Animals,and Man. (1968). In Bradley P. B. (Ed.), Anticholinergic drugs and brain functions in animals and man Amsterdam, New York etc.] Elsevier Pub. Co., 1968. Retrieved
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