Women and man with arms raised shows sweating in armpits

What is the cause of increased sweating?

Increased sweating (hyperhidrosis or diaphoresis) is obviously associated with hot conditions, but may also occur with anxiety and fear, eating hot (spicy hot or heat hot) foods, significant pain from any cause, and drinking excess alcohol. There are a number of medical conditions, which may also be responsible.

Any bacterial or viral infection that causes a fever will have excessive sweating associated with it. Some infections, such as malaria, AIDS and tuberculosis, may result in sweating out of proportion to the level of fever.

The menopause occurs in the late forties and early fifties in most women. The symptoms of menopause include irregular menstrual periods, hot flushes, sweats, headaches, irritability, personality changes, breast tenderness, tiredness and pelvic discomfort.

The thyroid gland in the front of the neck produces the hormone thyroxine, which acts as an accelerator for every cell in the body. Excess thyroxine will cause sweating, weight loss, diarrhoea, poor absorption of food, nervousness, heat intolerance, rapid heart rate, warm skin, tremor and prominent eyes.

A heart attack (myocardial infarct) may cause chest pain and pressure, shortness of breath and the patient often sweats profusely. The seriousness and effects of a heart attack vary depending on which part, and how much of the heart, is affected.

Other causes of excess sweating include”

  • many different types of cancer (particularly in advanced stages),
  • a blood clot in one of the major arteries within the lungs (pulmonary thrombosis),
  • poorly controlled diabetes,
  • overactive pituitary gland (eg. from a tumour or infection)
  • hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid gland).

Some psychoses may cause patients to have abnormal fears that cause the normal responses to fear, such as rapid heart rate, sweating and pins and needles sensation.

Rarer causes of excessive sweating include:

  • the Irukandji syndrome (excessive and abnormal response to some jellyfish stings),
  • porphyria,
  • Frey syndrome,
  • phaeochromocytoma (tumour of the adrenal glands)
  • the Riley-Day syndrome (exclusively in Jewish people).

The chorda tympani syndrome has the unusual symptom of abnormal sweating under the chin after eating.

Aluminium chloride can be used as a solution to treat excessive sweating from the arm pits, hands and feet. Diphemanil methylsulfate (Prantal) is an anticholinergic powder used on the skin to reduce excessive sweating. Propantheline is the most common oral medication used to ease excessive sweating that has no identifiable cause.

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