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What is Hyperhidrosis?

Hyperhidrosis is abnormal excessive sweating.

What is Hyperhidrosis?


Excessive sweating, also known as hyperhidrosis, is a condition that can have dramatic negative effects on peoples’ lives. Hyperhidrosis is the excessive production of the watery sweat, that can affect most areas of the body, but it is usually a major problem in one or two main areas. This sweat causes the damp patches on clothes and in severe cases, beads of sweat form and can drip down the body from the affected area. This sweat is produced by the Eccrine glands and its main purpose is to cool the body.

People suffering from hyperhidrosis from armpits, hands, feet or face or generalised to be sweating from all over the body, can find it extremely socially debilitating. Hyperhidrosis can lead to constant anxiety, changes of behaviour as sufferers try to avoid situations where they may sweat more or indeed whether sweating maybe noticed and can result in social isolation leading to failure to advance in relationships and careers.

As with all human conditions, there is a wide range of “normal” with some people hardly sweating at all, whilst others sweat to a much larger extent. Most normal or heavy sweating can be controlled with shop bought anti-perspirants or aluminium chloride. Only when the amount of sweating is excessive and cannot be controlled by these measures, it is termed “hyperhidrosis”.

Although some people have hyperhidrosis as a consequence of another illness, in many others it is merely due to overactive sweat glands or over-activity of the sympathetic nervous system.

Research supporting the severity of effects for Hyperhidrosis sufferers

Although some non-sufferers do not understand how awful hyperhidrosis can be, there has been some very good research looking at measurements of quality-of-life in people suffering from hyperhidrosis and comparing it with the quality-of-life of ‘normal’ people and those with other chronic illnesses. Interestingly, the decreases in quality-of-life scores found in people with hyperhidrosis are very similar to the decreased scores found in chronic diseases such as multiple sclerosis.

As such, although people suffering from hyperhidrosis often feel stigmatised and young people are often teased and ridiculed, hyperhidrosis is a serious medical condition that needs to be addressed and expert help sought.

Primary or Secondary Hyperhidrosis

Primary hyperhidrosis means that the sufferer has excessive sweating without any underlying cause. It usually runs in families and starts off in the adolescent years, being localised to only a few places on the body. These are normally one or more of the following:

  • Armpits (Axillary Hyperhidrosis)
  • Hands (Palmar Hyperhidrosis)
  • Feet (Plantar Hyperhidrosis)
  • Face (Facial Flushing and Facial Sweating)
  • Groin (Groin Hyperhidrosis)

Secondary hyperhidrosis means that the sufferer has hyperhidrosis secondary to another condition. However, it is very important to understand the difference between the two as each are treated by different specialists.

Secondary hyperhidrosis is usually generalised (occurs all over the body) and if not due to embarrassment and anxiety, can be due to a wide range of other conditions. Such conditions that can cause secondary hyperhidrosis include:

  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Diabetes
  • Medullary carcinoma of the thyroid
  • Pheochromocytoma
  • Carcinoid syndrome

Additionally, secondary hyperhidrosis can be a side-effect of some medications, for example antidepressants, opiate drugs such as morphine, cocaine and anabolic steroids, but is also often found when the sex hormones reduce, such as the hot flushes experienced during menopause.

Our aim at The Whiteley Clinic is to treat each patient who comes to see us as an individual, to find out exactly what the cause of their hyperhidrosis is and then to work through various options ranging from simple behavioural changes, treatments or medications, through to injections and eventually invasive surgery only if required.

Similar Conditions

This condition is not to be confused with smelly sweat – properly called bromhidrosis – which is a more greasy sweat of low volume that has a distinctive – and often nasty – smell. Bromhidrosis is formed by the Apocrine glands. These produce a greasy substance called sebum that is discharged into hair follicles.