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Excessive Sweating: Embarrassing, Treatable

Nearly 8 Million Americans Affected, but Help Is Available
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WebMD Health News

July 29, 2004 -- New research suggests nearly 8 million Americans -- almost 3% of the U.S. population -- routinely suffer from excessive sweating, a figure higher than previously believed.

"We're not talking about someone who gets a good sweat from a workout," says dermatologist Dee Anna Glaser, MD, of Saint Louis University, who conducted the study. "We're talking about a person who is sitting at their desk in a cool office, and going through their T-shirt, their shirt, and maybe even their jacket, with underarm sweat stains. Teenagers who are afraid to be called on in class because they are dripping in sweat. Babies who can't hold their bottles because they slip from the sweat in their palms."

They are victims of hyperhidrosis, a condition that causes them to sweat excessively on specific areas -- their underarms, face, palms, or the soles of their feet.

"I have women patients who only wear black because it's the only color that doesn't show the stains under their arms," says Heidi Waldorf, MD, director of laser and cosmetic surgery at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine in New York, who was not involved in Glaser's research but says it doesn't surprise her. She says that people who suffer from hyperhidrosis frequently carry numerous outfits to change into throughout the day.

"I hear the same stories over and over again," Waldorf tells WebMD. "It's an incredibly embarrassing condition, especially since we think of people who sweat profusely as being untrustworthy, devious, and anxious."

Many Affected, Few Seek Help

And apparently, it's a condition more common than previously believed, according to Glaser's research, published in the August issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. In her study, she and her colleagues surveyed 150,000 households across the country. Nearly 3% of those surveyed -- some 6,800 people -- met the criteria for having the condition. She says some past research has estimated that less than 1% of the population has hyperhidrosis.

"I'm a little surprised at the high percentage of those affected," Glaser tells WebMD. "But what really surprised me is how many people -- approximately two in three -- had never spoken to a health professional about their condition, many thinking that nothing can be done about it."

But there are several medical and surgical treatments available, including Botox injections, which this month was approved by the FDA to treat "primary axillary hyperhidrosis" -- severe underarm sweating. That approval was based in part by another study by Glaser, expected to be published in coming months.

The 'Home-Run' Treatment

Botox, is derived from the bacterium Clostridium botulinum. It blocks nerves that trigger the sweat glands. Despite the recent FDA approval, Botox injections have been used by dermatologists for about 10 years -- not only to treat underarm hyperhidrosis, but also that of the palms, soles, and face.

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