Excessive sweating in specific areas or over the whole body

  • Most common between the ages of 15 and 30
  • Sometimes runs in families
  • Gender and lifestyle are not significant factors

Frequent and excessively heavy sweating is called hyperhidrosis. The condition usually first appears at puberty. In many cases, no cause can be found, but about half of all affected people have a family history of the condition, which suggests a genetic factor. Hyperhidrosis can be an indication of an underlying problem, such as an overactive thyroid gland (see Hyperthyroidism) or diabetes mellitus. In some people, stress triggers sweating attacks.

Hyperhidrosis may occur in many areas of the body, particularly the feet, armpits, hands, and face. It is often accompanied by an unpleasant odour.

What might be done?

You should wash regularly, and wear loose clothing made from natural fibres that absorb sweat. Antiperspirant may help to reduce underarm sweating. If anxiety makes the problem worse, try relaxation exercises. If these methods do not help, consult your doctor.

Your doctor may prescribe a topical treatment containing aluminium chloride to reduce the activity of the sweat glands. In some cases, your doctor may suggest iontophoresis to treat hyperhidrosis of the hands and/or feet. This treatment involves placing the affected areas in a container of water and then passing a small electric current from a special machine through the water. It may take several sessions for iontophoresis to have an effect, and then further regular sessions are needed to keep sweating under control. Iontophoresis does not work for everybody, and is not suitable if you are pregnant or have a metal implant or pacemaker.

If you have hyperhidrosis in the armpits and other treatments have failed, your doctor may suggest a minor operation to destroy the nerve centres that control sweating, thus ending the problem permanently. Injections of botulinum toxin may be recommended for severe hyperhidrosis of the armpits but the results are not permanent.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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