Hyperhidrosis: What to know about excessive sweating

By Mandy Armitage, MD

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Have you ever been embarrassed to shake someone’s hand because your hands are sweating so profusely? Have you given up wearing shirts in any color other than black because of pit stains? Do you continue to sweat for no apparent reason (even if you’re not exerting yourself)?

If you answered yes, you may have hyperhidrosis. Keep reading, because you’re not alone.

What is hyperhidrosis?

We all sweat–it’s our bodies’ primary way to cool down. But approximately 15.3 million people in the United States sweat excessively, even when they’re not hot. This is called hyperhidrosis–”hyper” means too much and “hidrosis” means sweating. It can occur all over, but it most commonly affects the arm pits (axillary), palms of the hands (palmar hyperhidrosis), soles of the feet (plantar), and face (craniofacial). 

People with hyperhidrosis tend to sweat heavily, even at rest, and this can interfere with normal activities. For example, sweaty hands can make simple activities like writing or turning a doorknob difficult. Hyperhidrosis can also put you at greater risk for skin infections, like athlete’s foot. Unsurprisingly, all of this often negatively impacts quality of life. Many people with hyperhidrosis report that it leads to negative emotions, lack of self-confidence, and social anxiety.

What causes it?

There are two types of hyperhidrosis: primary and secondary.

Primary hyperhidrosis usually begins sometime before adulthood, and the exact cause is not well understood. Because a majority of people with hyperhidrosis report that someone in their family also has it, the condition is at least partly due to genetics. Individuals with hyperhidrosis have a normal number of sweat glands, but for reasons that have not yet been determined, they produce an excessive amount of sweat.

“Secondary” means that a condition is caused by something else, such as another medical issue or medication. Sweating due to secondary hyperhidrosis tends to start later in life. There are several reasons someone may have secondary hyperhidrosis, including the following:

  • Diabetes

  • Infection

  • Obesity

  • Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism)

  • Lymphoma

How Is the diagnosis made?

There is no test for a definite diagnosis, but your physician may run tests and review your medications to rule out other causes. 

Got it. I’m sweating up a storm. What should I do?

At Vault, we can help you take a physician-driven proactive medical approach. The miraDry system is a non-invasive FDA-cleared thermal energy treatment that safely removes unwanted sweat and odor glands. Most people experience about an 80% reduction in sweating after just one session. Call or email us to learn more. There’s no need to suffer–let alone sweat!–in silence.

This article was reviewed by Aaron Grotas, MD