Hyperhidrosis is a disorder of the glands in the sympathetic nervous system which control the body's involuntary movements and processes.
The main symptom is wetness produced by the sweat glands. Sweating occurs to help the body stay cool, but excessive wetness may interfere with daily life and cause embarrassment, discomfort, or the need to clean or change clothes more frequently than those without hyperhidrosis.
The cause of hyperhidrosis is unknown.
When it is caused by another condition, such as anxiety or menopause, it is called secondary hyperhidrosis. Once the underlying cause is treated, the hyperhidrosis typically ends. When it is not caused by another condition, it is termed primary hyperhidrosis, which appears to run in families.
Hyperhidrosis is often diagnosed through a simple discussion with a doctor, who will ask the patient when, how much and where they typically sweat, and if the patient has noticed any specific triggers. If a patient perspires more than needed to help their body stay cool and to such a degree that sweating interferes with their quality of life, they may have hyperhidrosis.
There are a number of ways to treat hyperhidrosis, depending on the type and severity of the individual’s situation. Non-surgical methods are used first.
- Antiperspirants. Antiperspirants plug sweat ducts. They may cause skin or clothing irritation, if they aren’t used carefully. Deodorants, although helpful in controlling body odor, are different from antiperspirants because they don’t reduce sweating.
- Medication. Sedatives may be used if the patient has stress-induced hyperhidrosis. Anticholinergic drugs, which help prevent sweat gland stimulation, are common for other kinds of hyperhidrosis.
- Surgery. Traditional surgery and minimally invasive surgery are options for patients for whom other treatments have been unsuccessful.
- Endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy is a minimally invasive option for sweaty palms. While under general anesthesia, the surgeon makes two or three small incisions under the arm and inserts small instruments, including a camera called a thoracoscope, which is used for guidance. The surgeon locates the nerve responsible for the overactive sweat gland and removes or interrupts it.
- For severe hyperhidrosis of the armpit, the patient may undergo surgery to remove the associated nerves.