Hyperhidrosis- Frequently Asked Questions

The causes of hyperhidrosis are not understood. The condition occurs daily, often without provocation. It can be worsened by stress, anxiety, a warm environment and physical activity. While more research is still needed, experts agree that excessive sweating is controlled by the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system prepares the body to cope with stressful situations. Normally, this system helps the body with its "fight or flight" responses. But in people with hyperhidrosis, something goes wrong and excessive sweating is the result.

Experts aren't sure. But a study in the Journal of Vascular Surgery indicates that palmar hyperhidrosis may be due to genetic factors. Many patients have parents or siblings who have hyperhidrosis.

Although this type of profuse sweating is not life-threatening, it can be extremely embarrassing and may interfere with a person's daily life. Someone with hyperhidrosis may have difficulty grasping objects because of wet hands. He or she may have to change clothes frequently during the day due to underarm perspiration.

Occasionally, people will have profuse sweating throughout their body. This is called secondary hyperhidrosis because it usually occurs as a sign of a serious underlying condition, such as thyroid disease or tuberculosis. If you have this type of sweating, you should contact your physician.

Yes. UChicago Medicine offers surgical treatment of hyperhidrosis. Depending on the severity of the patient's condition, a physician may recommend non-surgical methods of treatment as a first step.

Although non-surgical options provide incomplete relief for most patients, these measures should be explored before surgery is considered.

For patients who have moderate to severe hyperhidrosis, surgery may be the best option.

Success depends on the type of surgery you have and the location of your sweating. Surgery is effective for 98 percent of hand hyperhidrosis and 80 percent effective for underarm hyperhidrosis.

Although it is considered minimally invasive, there are some side effects that may occur as a result of surgery. Your surgeon will discuss your specific risk factors with you. One common side effect is compensatory sweating: excessive sweating shifts from the hands, armpits, or face to another area of the body, such as the chest, abdomen or groin area. It is the most common side effect, and occurs to some extent in virtually every patient undergoing this operation. Most patients find that compensatory sweating is an acceptable trade-off.

A few of the more potential complications of surgery include:

  • Incisional pain, bleeding, infection and lung injury. The risk of these complications is less than one percent.
  • Horner's Syndrome: A complication that affects one side of the face including droopy eyelid, constricted pupil and loss of sweating. Horner's Syndrome occurs in only a fraction of one percent of patients and, at times, corrects on its own.

Risk factors vary from surgery to surgery. Also, a patient's underlying conditions may increase their risk for certain side effects. For example, patients suffering from emphysema may be at greater risk for lung problems after surgery.

Surgery is performed on an outpatient basis, but the operation does require general anesthesia. Most patients experience discomfort or pain in the chest wall area for less than a week following the surgery. Doctors recommend that patients restrict themselves to light activity, such as climbing stairs or walking a few days after the surgery.