What is Hyperhidrosis?




Hyperhidrosis means excessive sweating. Perspiration is a normal bodily function, controlled by the autonomic nervous system. Sweat glands are found in the skin throughout the body, however are present in higher numbers in the skin of the hands, feet, armpits and the genital regions. Perspiring is a normal physiologic response of the body when the internal or body temperature rises. This response is characteristically seen with either exercise, or exposure to high environmental temperatures. Stressful situations can also stimulate the autonomic nervous system which then increases sweat production by the glands highly concentrated in the hands, feet, or other regions. In most people, the autonomic response in the sweat glands to stress is not excessive. Unfortunately in patients with hyperhidrosis, the autonomic stimulation of the sweat glands in response to stress is hyperactive. Normal everyday encounters, such as taking notes in school, holding or shaking someone's hand are embarrassing. Yet the physiologic response of the autonomic nervous system to exercise or high temperature is normal.

It is estimated that approximately 1% of adults suffer from hyperhidrosis. Typically excessive sweating begins in childhood or early adolescence and increases in severity through puberty and into adulthood. Men and women are equally affected. In many patients, the symptoms are mild, and not socially disabling. Symptoms usually appear during adolescence and either remain mild, or gradually progress into adulthood, rarely diminishing spontaneously.

Palmar hyperhidrosis, or sweaty palms is the most common manifestation, and the most socially disturbing. Sufferers fear any situation which may require hand contact. This impacts on one's ability to interact effectively in the work place, and can have devastating effects on one's social interaction with the opposite sex.

Types of hyperhidrosis

Sweating and perspiration have an important role in the body. In fact, it’s the cooling system of the body that regulates corporal temperature.

Whenever the body tries to decrease the temperature to a normal level, the sweating mechanism starts to operate in order to reduce the excess of body heat. Additionally, the sweat expels remains of medicines and reabsorbs sodium in times of intense heat.

It is important to distinguish general excessive sweating from local sweating.

Generalized excessive sweating
Also known as generalized hyperhidrosis, it is not located in a specific area and affects every part of the body. This type of sweating problem is also called secondary because it is caused by an underlying health condition such as overweight, hormonal disorders (thyroid problems, pregnancy or menopause), several diseases (diabetes, heart failure, cancer) and the use of certain medications.

Localized excessive sweating
Localized hyperhidrosis takes place in a specific area of the body such as the palms of the hands, underarms, groin, head, face or soles of the feet. This type of excessive sweating is due to a genetic predisposition. It tends to occur during childhood and adolescence and, in most cases, it gets worse with time, especially in adolescence and at any moment of stress, tension and anxious situations such as before exams, public speaking, social meetings, etc.

The impact of hyperhidrosis on daily life

There’s no doubt: excessive sweating has a serious impact on daily life. It is a disorder that affects our self-esteem and forces us to give up doing certain things and not being able to live an ordinary life without limitations.

In fact, many people who suffer from over sweating often have to change their daily habits. They experience an uncomfortable personal feeling, something like a lack of basic aesthetics or "personal hygiene”. This constant insecurity gets worse when they have to interact with other people.