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Dermatology/Sweaty Hand and Feet

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Question
Hi,
My hands and feet is very sweaty. It does not sweat all the time. But sometimes (at least once a day) without any reason it starts to sweat excessively, no matter how many times I wipe it off. It stops suddenly on its own after an hour or two; not because of heat or cold. This happens even in cold weather.

I have normal sweat on my other body parts. The feet is usually very cold when it starts to sweat.

Please let me know if you need any additional info.

Thank you for your help.

Answer
Hyperhidrosis is a medical condition in which a person sweats excessively and unpredictably. People with hyperhidrosis may sweat even when the temperature is cool or when they are at rest.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Sweating helps the body stay cool. In most cases, it is perfectly natural. People sweat more in warm temperatures, when they exercise, or in response to situations that make them nervous, angry, embarrassed, or afraid.

However, excessive sweating occurs without such triggers. Those with hyperhidrosis appear to have overactive sweat glands. The uncontrollable sweating can lead to significant discomfort, both physical and emotional.

When excessive sweating affects the hands, feet, and armpits, it's called primary or focal hyperhidrosis. Primary hyperhidrosis affects 2 - 3% of the population, yet less than 40% of patients with this condition seek medical advice. In the majority of primary hyperhidrosis cases, no cause can be found. It seems to run in families.

If the sweating occurs as a result of another medical condition, it is called secondary hyperhidrosis. The sweating may be all over the body, or it may be in one area. Conditions that cause second hyperhidrosis include:

Acromegaly
Anxiety conditions
Cancer
Carcinoid syndrome
Certain medications and substances of abuse
Glucose control disorders
Heart disease
Hyperthyroidism
Lung disease
Menopause
Parkinsonís disease
Pheochromocytoma
Spinal cord injury
Stroke
Tuberculosis or other infections
Symptoms

The primary symptom of hyperhidrosis is wetness.

Signs and tests

Visible signs of sweating may be noted during a doctor's visit. A number of tests may also be used to diagnose excessive sweating. Tests include:

Tests include:

Starch-iodine test. An iodine solution is applied to the sweaty area. After it dries, starch is sprinkled on the area. The starch-iodine combination turns a dark blue color wherever there is excess sweat.
Paper test. Special paper is placed on the affected area to absorb the sweat, and then weighed. The heavier it weights, the more sweat has accumulated.
You may be also be asked details about your sweating, such as:

Location
Does it occur your face, palms, or armpits, or all over the body?
Time pattern
Does it occur at night?
Did it begin suddenly?
Triggers
Does the sweating occur when you are reminded of something that upset you (such as traumatic event)?
What other symptoms do you have, for example:
Weight loss
Pounding heartbeat
Cold or clammy hands
Fever
Lack of appetite
Treatment

Treatments may include:

Antiperspirants. Excessive sweating may be controlled with strong anti-perspirants, which plug the sweat ducts. Products containing 10% to 20% aluminum chloride hexahydrate are the first line of treatment for underarm sweating. Some patients may be be prescribed a product containing a higher dose of aluminum chloride, which is applied nightly onto the affected areas. Antiperspirants can cause skin irritation, and large doses of aluminum chloride can damage clothing. Note: Deodorants do not prevent sweating, but are helpful in reducing body odor.
Medication. Anticholinergics drugs, such as glycopyrrolate (Robinul, Robinul-Forte), help to prevent the stimulation of sweat glands. Although effective for some patients, these drugs have not been studied as well as other treatments. Side effects include dry mouth, dizziness, and problems with urination. Beta-blockers or benzodiazepines may help reduce stress-related sweating.
Iontophoresis. This FDA-approved procedure uses electricity to temporarily turn off the sweat gland. It is most effective for sweating of the hands and feet. The hands or feet are placed into water, and then a gentle current of electricity is passed through it. The electricity is gradually increased until the patient feels a light tingling sensation. The therapy lasts about 10-20 minutes and requires several sessions. Side effects include skin cracking and blisters, although rare.
Botox. Botulinum toxin type A (Botox) is FDA approved for the treatment of severe underarm sweating, a condition called primary axillary hyperhidrosis. Small doses of purified botulinum toxin injected into the underarm temporarily block the nerves that stimulate sweating. Side effects include injection-site pain and flu-like symptoms. If you are considering Botox for other areas of excessive sweating talk to your doctor in detail. Botox used for sweating of the palms can cause mild, but temporary weakness and intense pain.
Endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy (ETS). In severe cases, a minimally-invasive surgical procedure called sympathectomy may be recommended when other treatments fail. The procedure turns off the signal that tells the body to sweat excessively. It is usually done on patients whose palms sweat much more heavily than normal. It may also be used to treat extreme sweating of the face. ETS does not work as well for those with excessive armpit sweating. See: ETS surgery
Support Groups

International Hyperhidrosis Society, www.sweathelp.org

Expectations (prognosis)

Aluminum chloride: Initially a patient may need to use it three to seven times a week. After sweating becomes normal, the person may need to use it only once every one to three weeks. If skin irritation is a problem, a doctor may temporarily prescribe a steroid-based cream.

Botox: Swelling goes away in a few weeks. The effect of a single injection can last up to a few months. Some patients need additional injections.

Iontophoresis: Sweating may be reduced after six to 10 sessions. After that, the person may need treatment once every one to four weeks.

Complications

Some of the causes of hyperhidrosis can be serious. Always consult a doctor if you have excessive sweating.

Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider if you have:

Prolonged, excessive, and unexplained sweating
Sweating with or followed by chest pain or pressure
Sweating with weight loss
Sweating that most often occurs during sleep
Sweating with fever, weight loss, chest pain, shortness of breath, or a rapid, pounding heartbeat - these symptoms may be a sign of an underlying disease, such as hyperthyroidism

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Michael S. Fisher, <B>Ph.D., M.D.</B>

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