Sweating is a necessary bodily function that is required for cooling us down when we’re exerting ourselves or when it is hot. It is also an involuntary response to stress. Everyone sweats, but not everyone sweats excessively. Once sweating starts interfering with your life, you’re entering the realm of hyperhidrosis.
The first step in treating hyperhidrosis is understanding where it comes from and why it happens. Hyperhidrosis is not a single condition. Rather, it can be caused by a number of reasons. Sometimes it is a symptom of an underlying condition—secondary hyperhidrosis—and sometimes there is no underlying condition (primary hyperhidrosis). When the cause of hyperhidrosis is unknown, it is classified as idiopathic primary hyperhidrosis.
Hyperhidrosis is also classified further into generalized or focal. Generalized means most parts of the body sweat, and focal means the sweating is limited to one part of the body, usually affecting:
It is possible to have more than one type of focal hyperhidrosis. In fact, a common combination is patients who experience palmar, plantar and axillary hyperhidrosis.
In contrast, secondary hyperhidrosis, or sweating caused by an underlying condition, is typically generalized and effects the entire body.
A number of diverse conditions have hyperhidrosis as a symptom. Conditions cause excess sweating in a variety of ways; nerve damage, excess fluid buildup and problems regulating temperature and metabolism are some of the more common reasons.
Here are some medical conditions that may cause secondary hyperhidrosis.
Diabetes: Diabetes is a problem with the regulation of blood sugar. Normally, sugar (also known as glucose) moves from the blood into the cells to be used for fuel with the help of a hormone called insulin. People with diabetes either don’t make enough insulin to move glucose from the bloodstream into the cells, or their cells become resistant to the effects of insulin. About 10 million Americans have diabetes.
Blood sugar levels that are too high (hyperglycemia) is the hallmark of diabetes, but because the body’s ability to regulate its blood sugar is impaired, low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) can be a problem too. The nervous system responds to hypoglycemia by producing sweat, among other responses.
Additionally, too much blood glucose can damage nerves over time. This nerve damage is known as diabetic neuropathy If some of the nerves that control sweating are damaged, they are essentially always “switched on.” This can result in hyperhidrosis.
Endocarditis: Endocarditis is an infection and inflammation of the lining of the heart. It is usually caused by bacteria, but can also be caused by viruses or fungi. Sweating, especially night sweats, are a common symptom of endocarditis. The infection and inflammation—and the immune system’s response—from endocarditis can prompt a rise in body temperature, causing the body to sweat.
Overactive thyroid: The thyroid is a gland located at the front of the throat. It produces hormones that play a role in regulating a number of necessary bodily functions, including:
…and more. The thyroid can produce too much hormone, a condition known as hyperthyroidism or overactive thyroid. Hyperthyroidism can raise the body’s metabolism and heart rate, which can also result in excessive sweating.
Heart failure: Heart failure is the inability of the heart to pump enough blood to fully meet the body’s needs. It occurs when the heart muscle is damaged and the heart becomes too weak to either pump blood out forcefully enough to reach all the areas of the body, or to fully empty of blood.
Heart failure can result in excessive fluid buildup in the lungs, legs or other areas (called congestion; swelling of the legs is known as edema). One way the body tries to rid itself of this excess fluid is by sweating. Sweating is also a response to stress, which the body is under when it cannot get enough blood to meet its needs.
Anxiety: Anxiety is a mental health condition with real physical symptoms. Between one in four and one in three people with anxiety have hyperhidrosis. Anxiety produces physiological responses to stress. When someone becomes anxious, the mind and body mistakenly perceive danger and act accordingly: breathing and heart rates rise, pupils dilate to take in more light, muscles become tense and body temperature rises. All of those responses combine to cause excessive sweating.
Menopause: Hormonal changes in women caused by menopause is another possible cause of secondary hyperhidrosis. Menopause occurs when estrogen decreases in women as they age. Anyone who experiences a drastic change in hormone levels can expect a number of bodily changes as well, and excessive sweating—often linked to hot flashes—is a common symptom of menopause.
Hyperhidrosis Center at Thoracic Group is your resource for primary hyperhidrosis. If you suspect you have primary hyperhidrosis, call us at (732) 798-7066 or click here to request a consultation. Our experienced physicians can work with you to develop a treatment plan to meet your goals. If you suspect your hyperhidrosis is caused by an underlying condition, your primary care provider can advise you on steps to take to treat it.