Excessive sweating can cause anxiety and social discomfort, all of which may negatively impact a person’s life. But sometimes excessive sweating is not just an inconvenience—it’s a medical condition.
People with hyperhidrosis, a condition in which the body produces excessive amounts of sweat, struggle with unnecessary sweating every day and may make extreme life decisions to avoid situations that would otherwise prove embarrassing due to their condition.
We spoke to University of Minnesota Health Thoracic Surgeon Rafael Andrade, MD, to learn more about hyperhidrosis and a procedure called thoracoscopic sympathectomy, which is helping some patients put an end to excessive sweating.
Some sweating is normal.
Our bodies typically sweat to regulate temperature. When we're hot we sweat to cool ourselves off; because sweat can be tied to hormonal changes, we also sweat when we’re nervous or embarrassed. While sweating can be mildly embarrassing, it doesn’t typically affect a person’s quality of life. Hyperhidrosis, on the other hand, is a completely different story.
Hyperhidrosis affects quality of life.
Primary hyperhidrosis is a disorder that causes the palms, soles of the feet or and/or underarms to sweat excessively, unrelated to regulating body temperature. Severe cases of hyperhidrosis can make it difficult for people to grip a steering wheel, walk without slipping in shoes, hold a pen or even shake hands. The disorder can cause some sufferers to choose career paths that minimize their need to interact with other people.
Standard treatments provide some relief.
Fortunately, people with hyperhidrosis do have options. For some, excessive sweating can be relieved with prescription strength antiperspirants, oral medications or Botox. However, some people find these options don’t provide the relief they need.
There is another solution for patients who have tried other options.
We see patients with primary hyperhidrosis of the palms, feet and/or underarms who have exhausted all other treatment options and would like to try thoracoscopic sympathectomy, a surgical procedure that interrupts the sympathetic nerve pathway in the chest, thus stopping the nerves that cause sweating. This procedure is safe, and offers a permanent solution for people suffering from excessive hand and armpit sweat. Unfortunately, it is not an effective solution for relieving excessive sweating of the soles of the feet.
Patients should consider their options carefully.
Although thoracosopic sympathectomy is effective, it is irreversible and has side effects that all patients must examine. Most—if not all—people who have had the procedure will experience compensatory sweating, which means the body will sweat more in other places. While the portion of people who experience compensatory sweating after the procedure is high, most who have had the surgery believe it is worthwhile, Andrade said.