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Is Your Excessive Sweating Caused by a Medical Problem?

Sweating may be a symptom of thyroid problems, diabetes, or infection.

Excessive Sweating: Signs You Should See the Doctor continued...

Late onset: if you develop excessive sweating when you're middle-aged or older. The more common primary focal hyperhidrosis usually starts in teenagers and young adults.

Symptoms after medication changes: if an outbreak of excessive sweating started up after you began a new drug.

Sweating accompanied by other symptoms, like fatigue, insomnia, increased thirst, increased urination, or cough.

Even if you don't have those symptoms, if excessive sweating is bothering you or interfering with your life, talk to your doctor. Remember to bring along a list of all the drugs you take, including over-the-counter drugs and supplements. Your doctor may want to check your medications and run some tests.

Treating Excessive Sweating

While there is no cure for primary focal hyperhidrosis, there are ways to help control the symptoms. They include:

  • Antiperspirants. Special over-the-counter or prescription sprays, lotions, and roll-ons can help control symptoms.
  • Iontophoresis. This treatment uses low-level electrical impulses to temporarily disable the sweat glands.
  • Medications. Some drugs can stop the sweat glands from kicking into action.
  • Botox. Injections of Botox can temporarily stop the nerves from triggering excessive sweating. It is approved for treatment of excessive underarm sweating.
  • Surgery. One approach is to cut a nerve in the chest that triggers excessive sweating. Another is to surgically remove some of the sweat glands.

Secondary hyperhidrosis can often be treated too, although the right approach depends on the condition causing it.

For instance, hyperhidrosis caused by an overactive thyroid may be resolved by treating the thyroid with medication or surgery. Excessive sweating caused by diabetes may disappear once glucose levels are under control. If a medication is causing your excessive sweating, your doctor may be able to prescribe a different drug.

Sometimes, the underlying cause of hyperhidrosis can't be cured. Or you might really need a medicine that's causing excessive sweating as a side effect.

However, if that's the case, there are still things you can do, Glaser says.

"We try to just treat the symptom even when we can't cure the underlying disease," says Glaser. She says that many of the same treatments for primary focal hyperhidrosis work quite well in these cases. They include topical treatments, oral drugs, and Botox.

Getting Help for Excessive Sweating

Experts say that excessive sweating is something that people don't take seriously enough. Many ignore their symptoms for months, years, and sometimes decades. That's a bad idea for a couple of reasons.

First of all, it could have grave health consequences. "Excessive sweating can be a sign of a serious underlying health condition," says Glaser. "Getting it diagnosed and treated sooner rather than later could really make a difference."

Second, even when excessive sweating isn't a sign of a more serious medical problem, getting expert help can be crucial.

"A lot of people don't realize the impact that their symptoms are having," says Glaser. In high school, they cover themselves up in layers and avoid school dances. As adults, they shy away from dating or socializing after work. Over time, they set up barriers between themselves and other people. But with treatment, that can all change.

"We have treatments that really work," Glaser says. "They could make a huge improvement in your work life, your personal life, and your self-esteem."

Barankin agrees. "For many people with hyperhidrosis, treatment is life-altering," he tells WebMD. "They're so grateful. They're probably the happiest patients I see."

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Reviewed on September 07, 2011

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