Overview

Hyperhidrosis (hi-pur-hi-DROE-sis) is abnormally excessive sweating that's not necessarily related to heat or exercise. You may sweat so much that it soaks through your clothes or drips off your hands. Besides disrupting normal daily activities, this type of heavy sweating can cause social anxiety and embarrassment.

Hyperhidrosis treatment usually helps, beginning with prescription-strength antiperspirants. If antiperspirants don't help, you may need to try different medications and therapies. In severe cases, your doctor may suggest surgery either to remove the sweat glands or to disconnect the nerves responsible for the overproduction of sweat.

Sometimes an underlying cause may be found and treated.

Symptoms

Most people sweat when they exercise or exert themselves, are in a hot environment, or are anxious or under stress. The excessive sweating experienced with hyperhidrosis far exceeds such normal sweating.

The type of hyperhidrosis that usually affects the hands, feet, underarms or face causes at least one episode a week, during waking hours. And the sweating usually occurs on both sides of the body.

When to see a doctor

Sometimes excessive sweating is a sign of a serious condition.

Seek immediate medical attention if your heavy sweating is accompanied by lightheadedness, chest pain or nausea.

See your doctor if:

  • Sweating disrupts your daily routine
  • Sweating causes emotional distress or social withdrawal
  • You suddenly begin to sweat more than usual
  • You experience night sweats for no apparent reason

Causes

Sweating is your body's mechanism to cool itself. Your nervous system automatically triggers your sweat glands when your body temperature rises. Sweating also normally occurs, especially on your palms, when you're nervous.

The most common form of hyperhidrosis is called primary focal (essential) hyperhidrosis. With this type, the nerves responsible for signaling your sweat glands become overactive, even though they haven't been triggered by physical activity or a rise in temperature. With stress or nervousness, the problem becomes even worse. This type usually affects your palms and soles and sometimes your face.

There is no medical cause for this type of hyperhidrosis. It may have a hereditary component, because it sometimes runs in families.

Secondary hyperhidrosis occurs when excess sweating is due to a medical condition. It's the less common type. It's more likely to cause sweating all over your body. Conditions that may lead to heavy sweating include:

  • Diabetes
  • Menopause hot flashes
  • Thyroid problems
  • Low blood sugar
  • Some types of cancer
  • Heart attack
  • Nervous system disorders
  • Infections

Certain medications also can lead to heavy sweating, as can opioid withdrawal.

Complications

Complications of hyperhidrosis include:

  • Infections. People who sweat profusely are more prone to skin infections.
  • Social and emotional effects. Having clammy or dripping hands and perspiration-soaked clothes can be embarrassing. Your condition may affect your pursuit of work and educational goals.