Hyperhidrosis, a disorder characterized by excessive sweating, does have a hereditary component. There are two main types of hyperhidrosis: primary focal hyperhidrosis and secondary generalized hyperhidrosis. Secondary generalized hyperhidrosis is not heritable, but rather it is caused by medication or an underlying physiological condition or disease. However, primary focal hyperhidrosis, is influenced by a person’s genetic makeup. Primary focal hyperhidrosis typically begins between the ages of 14 and 25, but it can begin earlier. People with it experience excessive sweating due to overactive sweat glands on both sides of the body that affects specific areas like the hands, feet, armpits, and face. It is a lifelong condition and it can have a negative impact on a person’s quality of life. Hyperhidrosis is also quite common, as approximately 2.8% (some studies say upwards of 5%) of the US population is estimated to have it.
It is known that 35% to 56% of people with hyperhidrosis have other family members with the same condition. This implies that it is, to an extent, a heritable disease. It is thought that hyperhidrosis is an autosomal dominant condition with variable penetrance. Autosomal dominance means that a person only needs a gene from one parent with the mutation in order to get hyperhidrosis. Variable penetrance means that even if an individual receives the genes that could cause them to have hyperhidrosis, they may or may not get it.
The specific genetics involved in the development of hyperhidrosis are still not well understood. Recently, however, it has been reported that there may be a genetic link for hyperhidrosis on chromosome 14. It is thought that a higher percentage of people may have a familial link to hyperhidrosis than is currently known because people tend to underreport symptoms due to embarassment and stigma. One study done on patients with palmar hyperhidrosis found that 65% of the people who with it had family members with the same condition. It has also been found that the earlier a person get hyperhidrosis the more likely it is to have a genetic component. Most of the current data available regarding the heritability of hyperhidrosis comes from anecdotal evidence and personal communications, which makes it harder to study. Another study that took a history of several families with the condition found that it is most likely autosomal dominant and that it is probably not passed down on the X chromosome. Even in families with hyperhidrosis there were some individuals who didn’t get it, and it is not yet understood why some get it and others don’t.[1,2]
Like many diseases, hyperhidrosis is influenced by both genetics and environment. One study even looked at how genetics and personality traits impacted a person’s likelihood of developing hyperhidrosis. Similarly to other studies, it found that hyperhidrosis had a genetic component and it found that people with the condition tended to be stoical, rigid, orderly, monotonous and did not seem to be extroverted or neurotic. These findings were only from one study and the results could have been caused by chance. Hyperhidrosis and anxiety are known to be closely related, but typically because hyperhidrosis causes people to experience anxiety. The parts of the nervous system that control emotional sweating, or stress sweating, are thought to be overactive in people with hyperhidrosis, and it remains to be seen if this is caused by a genetic abnormality. Correlations like these show how genetics underlie many facets of a person’s life.
Ultimately, hyperhidrosis is a diagnosis that involves both genetics and other factors in a person’s life. Thankfully for those who have it, there are effective treatments and ways to cope with the symptoms. It is also thought that hyperhidrosi may get better with age. People with hyperhidrosis may not have won the genetic lottery, but it could have been a lot worse.
- Pariser, D. M. (2014). Hyperhidrosis (4th ed., Vol. 32). Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier.
- Kaufmann, Horacio, et al. “Primary Hyperhidrosis: Evidence for Autosomal Dominant Inheritance.” Clinical Autonomic Research, vol. 13, no. 2, Apr. 2003, doi:10.1007/s10286-003-0082-x.
- Karaca, Semsettin, et al. “ Temperament and Character Profile in Patients with Essential Hyperhidrosis.” Dermatology, vol. 214, no. 3, Mar. 2007, pp. 240–245., doi:10.1159/000099589.