Hyperhidrosis – definition, causes and treatment

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Hyperhidrosis, also known as polyhidrosis or sudorrhea, is a condition characterized by excessive sweating. Most cases of this disorder begin during childhood or puberty. Hyperhidrosis that begins in adult life should prompt the doctor to look for a systemic illness, medication side effect, or metabolic disorder.1

There are three basic forms of hyperhidrosis:

  • emotionally induced – typically affects the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and the armpits;
  • localized – typically affects the palms, armpits, groin, face, and the area below the breasts in women;
  • generalized – may affect the entire body.2

Hyperhidrosis may be idiopathic or marked by fever, diabetes, alcoholism, menopause, Hodgkin’s disease, tuberculosis, pregnancy, or the use of certain medications. The medications most commonly associated with hyperhidrosis are propranolol, venlafaxine, tricyclic antidepressants, pilocarpine, and physostigmine.3

To treat the disorder, doctors usually prescribe 20% aluminum chloride hexahydrate solution, which block the sweat pores. Patient applies prescribed medicine at night to the affected areas and wrap them in a plastic film until morning. Formaldehyde- and glutaraldehyde-based solutions can also be prescribed; however, formaldehyde may trigger an allergic reaction and glutaraldehyde can stain the skin (for this reason it is primarily applied to the soles). Anticholinergic drugs may also be given. These drugs include such medications as propantheline, oxybutynin, and benztropine.4

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