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The Causes of Excessive Sweating

Excessive sweating aka hyperhidrosis, can be embarrassing. Get the facts, know causes, & how to handle sweat. Learn more from Carpe, the sweat experts!

While sweating is a normal bodily function, for some people, it’s much more than that. Sometimes, sweat can be extreme, embarrassing, and uncomfortable - because some people deal with excessive sweating. There are two to four million sweat glands in your body. With that many sweat glands a body can produce a lot of moisture, and sometimes, a lot of problems.[1]

An excessive sweating condition called primary focal hyperhidrosis is one of the biggest reasons some people sweat too much. People with hyperhidrosis don’t have more sweat glands than other people do, but their sweat glands are more active, leading to an increased amount of sweat.[1]

People with hyperhidrosis don’t have more sweat glands than other people do, but they are more active, leading to an increased amount of sweat.

If you’re concerned about how much sweat you’re experiencing and the potential reasons for it, then take a look at some common causes of sweating related to hyperhidrosis.

Facts About Hyperhidrosis

Approximately 5%t of the population suffers from the excessive sweating condition hyperhidrosis, but that’s only the reported estimate. Some experts believe the actual percentage is much higher than that – with some estimates at 12% in the U.S. [1]

While hyperhidrosis isn't dangerous, it can be a difficult problem to deal with because it can affect every area of your life, including:

  • Your relationships.
  • Your anxiety levels.
  • Your work and productivity.
  • Which leisure activities you pursue.
  • Your self-esteem.[1]

How you get hyperhidrosis depends on the type of hyperhidrosis you have. There are two main types of hyperhidrosis:

Hyperhidrosis can cause excessive sweating all over the body, including in the underarms, hands, feet , face, scalp, under the breasts, and the groin. Some people with hyperhidrosis sweat in only one area, while others sweat in more than one location. The most common areas hyperhidrosis affects are the hands, underarms, and feet. Primary focal hyperhidrosis causes palmar (hand) hyperhidrosis as well as plantar (foot), axillary, and excessive sweating of the head and face. It is also important to note that some people can experience excessive sweating that develops from trauma. This type of sweating is called compensatory sweating when it results from endoscopic thoracic surgery. Another type, called gustatory sweating develops after trauma to the face and it causes people to sweat while eating.[1]

Excessive sweating can have a huge impact on the quality of life of those who suffer from it. Primary focal hyperhidrosis, for instance, tends to kick in right around the teenage years for many sufferers. That can amplify the emotional turmoil teenagers are already feeling.

There are treatments to help with the condition though. They include:

Causes of Secondary Generalized Hyperhidrosis

Secondary hyperhidrosis is a sign that you have an underlying medical condition or are experiencing side effects of a medication. If you experience several health symptoms at the same time, like diaphoresis and pallor, their cause needs to be determined in order to make sure that the underlying issues do not progress. Here are some examples of diseases that can cause excessive sweating:

Hyperthyroidism

Your thyroid, the little butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of your neck, can be underactive or it can be overactive.

If it is underactive it’s known as hypothyroidism. That means your thyroid isn’t making enough hormones for your body. This condition causes many symptoms both internally and externally, including fatigue, dry skin, puffy face, weight gain, thinning hair, high cholesterol, and muscle aches.

On the flip side, if your thyroid is overactive, it’s known as hyperthyroidism. That means your body is producing too much of the hormone thyroxine.

Hyperthyroidism is one of the medical causes of sweating that can be excessive. Other symptoms may include weight loss, rapid heartbeat, nervousness, and irritability.

If you suspect hyperthyroidism is the reason for your excessive sweating, you can be tested for it with a blood test that looks at your levels of TSH and thyroxine. There are treatments available for hyperthyroidism, including medication, surgery, and radioactive iodine.[3]

Medications

If you’ve started to sweat excessively since making a medication change, you might want to investigate it further. While most medications don’t produce sweating as a side effect, some common medications can cause hyperhidrosis. Not everyone who takes a certain medication will experience excessive sweating, however. So, even if a medicine is known to cause sweating, you might take it and be perfectly fine.

Some examples of medications that may make you sweat include:

  • Some high blood pressure medicines.
  • Certain psychiatric drugs.
  • Medicines for dry mouth.
  • Certain antibiotics.
  • Various supplements.

If you are experiencing excessive sweating and you suspect a medication, you can talk to your doctor about whether there’s a substitute medication you could try instead. [1],[4]

Cancer

Hyperhidrosis itself is not bad for your health, but it can be a sign of an underlying problem. A serious cause of excessive sweating can include certain kinds of cancer. Although doctors can’t say for certain why excessive sweating occurs with particular cancers, it can.

Some of the kinds of cancer that might cause excessive sweating include:

  • Liver.
  • Leukemia.
  • Mesothelioma.
  • Bone cancer.
  • Lymphoma.

Other cancers can also cause heavy sweating, especially if they are in an advanced stage.[5]

Glucose Issues

People who have problems with glucose levels that drop too low can also have excessive sweating. This includes people who have any type of diabetes, whether it be Type 1, Type 2, or gestational diabetes during pregnancy.

It can also happen to people who suffer from hypoglycemia - a condition that causes low blood sugar.

Excessive sweating caused by glucose issues will correct itself once your blood sugar stabilizes.[6]

Menopause

This particular cause of excessive sweating only applies to women. Up to 75% of women going through menopause, and even some in perimenopause, say they experience hot flashes, heavy sweating, and night sweats.[7]

Experts believe excessive sweating during menopause primarily happens because of dropping estrogen levels.[7]

Anxiety

Extreme anxiety can cause heavy sweating, and often, people with hyperhidrosis also experience anxiety. If you’re worried or anxious about something, like delivering a public speech, hyperhidrosis symptoms can become exacerbated. This phenomenon is also known as stress sweating.[1].

Obesity or Overeating

Not all overweight people sweat excessively, but being obese can cause you to sweat more heavily than if you were of an average weight. If you’ve noticed your sweat ramping up as you’ve gained a few pounds, it may be one of the causes of excessive sweating for you.[1]

If you’re carrying excess weight and think it might be causing your hyperhidrosis, you can try to control your weight through diet and exercise and see if that helps.

Parkinson’s Disease

Some people with Parkinson’s disease may experience excessive sweating due to how the disease affects their nervous system. Excessive sweating, or even decreased sweating, can be a sign that someone has the condition. If you have Parkinson’s you might also notice you’re more prone to sweating at night.[8]

Rheumatoid Arthritis

If you have rheumatoid arthritis, you may not always experience excessive sweating. You might find you have severe sweating at certain times, while it seems to go away at other times.

In addition to excessive sweating, some of the other symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include:

  • Joint pain and swelling
  • Fatigue
  • Stiffness
  • Flu-like symptoms[9]

Infection

Certain infections can cause excessive sweating. An example is endocarditis, which is an infection that attacks the inner lining of the heart.

Another infection that tends to cause extreme sweating is tuberculosis. It tends to cause heavy night sweats in particular.[1]

Gout

Gout is known as a cause of hyperhidrosis. It is caused by having too much uric acid in the blood. The extra uric acid forms crystals under your skin and in your joints which can cause physical problems.

The telltale symptoms of gout, in addition to heavy sweating, include swelling, pain, and tender joints.[10]

Pregnancy

Pregnancy is a common cause of heavy sweating, particularly in late pregnancy as your body has to adjust to the new load it’s carrying. If you’re pregnant and notice your sweat has been soaking through your clothes lately, there is no cause for alarm. For many women, this is a normal part of pregnancy.

Your excessive sweating, in this case, should resolve shortly after you give birth. [1],[4]

How To Handle Excessive Sweating

If you’ve noticed an increase in the amount of sweat you produce, pay attention to your body. It’s important to note if you have any other symptoms that accompany the sweating to make sure it’s not caused by an underlying issue. You may have an excessive sweating condition related to secondary generalized hyperhidrosis that can be treated by a doctor.[1]

If you’ve always been a heavy sweater, you likely have primary focal hyperhidrosis. The treatments listed above in this article can give you some ideas for how to manage your sweat. There are many strategies to manage your hyperhidrosis at home or use alternative methods to treat symptoms if you feel like traditional medical approaches are not for you.[1]

While many causes of excessive sweating are harmless, some should be further investigated and possibly managed by a doctor. Don’t give up on finding a treatment that will work for you, and remember, you are not alone in this!

Sources
  1. Pariser, D. M. (2014). Hyperhidrosis (4th ed., Vol. 32). Amsterdam: Elsevier Pub. Co., 2014. Retrieved from https://www.elsevier.com/books/hyperhidrosis-an-issue-of-dermatologic-clinics/pariser/978-0-323-32607-0
  2. Nordqvist, C. (2017, December 21). Hyperhidrosis: Symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment. Retrieved May 14, 2018, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/182130.php
  3. Thyroid Problems. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/women/guide/understanding-thyroid-problems-basics#1
  4. Symposium on Anticholinergic Drug and Brain Functions in Animals,and Man. (1968). In Bradley P. B. (Ed.), Anticholinergic drugs and brain functions in animals and man Amsterdam, New York etc.] Elsevier Pub. Co., 1968. Retrieved from https://books.google.com/books?id=__NsAAAAMAAJ&hl=en
  5. Does cancer cause night sweats? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/314008
  6. How does diabetes cause abnormal sweating? (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/317366
  7. Suszynski, M. (n.d.). Menopause and Sweating. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/menopause/features/menopause-sweating-11#1
  8. Gilbert, R., Dr. (2019, July 23). SWEATING AND OTHER SKIN PROBLEMS IN PEOPLE WITH PARKINSON’S DISEASE. Retrieved from https://www.apdaparkinson.org/article/sweating-and-skin-problems/
  9. Rheumatoid Arthritis. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/rheumatoid-arthritis/symptoms-causes/syc-20353648
  10. Gout: Joint pain and more. (2007, December). Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/pain/gout-joint-pain-and-more
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