Diseases & Conditions
Boston Medical Center’s Division of Thoracic Surgery treats a wide variety of conditions, including hyperhidrosis, with the trademark skill and compassion for which we are known. We are here to treat you in the most effective way possible, help minimize your pain and help start on the path to recovery. Our team of dedicated nurses, surgeons and support services personnel is here for you and your family in any way we can be. Please let us know if you have questions or concerns. We will work diligently to make your experience and your family's as comfortable as possible.
What is Hyperhidrosis?
Hyperhidrosis is a disorder of the glands in the sympathetic nervous system which control your body's involuntary movements and processes. It causes excessive sweating, typically in your hands (palmar hyperhidrosis), armpits (axillary hyperhidrosis) or feet (plantar hyperhidrosis). Sweating may occur at unpredictable times, including when the temperature is cool or when you are at rest.
The main symptom is wetness produced by the sweat glands. Sweating occurs to help the body stay cool, but excessive wetness may interfere with daily life and cause embarrassment, discomfort or the need to clean or change clothes more frequently than those without hyperhidrosis.
The cause of hyperhidrosis is unknown. When it is caused by another condition, such as anxiety or menopause, it is called secondary hyperhidrosis. Once the underlying cause is treated, the hyperhidrosis typically ends. When it is not caused by another condition, it is termed primary hyperhidrosis, which appears to run in families.
Hyperhidrosis is often diagnosed through a simple discussion with your doctor, who will ask you when, how much and where you typically sweat, and if you've noticed any specific triggers. If you perspire more than needed to help your body stay cool and to such a degree that sweating interferes with your quality of life, you may have hyperhidrosis.
There are a number of ways to treat hyperhidrosis, depending on the type and severity of your individual situation. Non-surgical methods are used first.
- Antiperspirants. Antiperspirants plug sweat ducts. Products containing 10 to 15 percent aluminum chloride hexahydrate are generally recommended. They may cause skin or clothing irritation, if they aren’t used carefully. Deodorants, although helpful in controlling body odor, are different from antiperspirants because they don’t reduce sweating.
- Medication. Sedatives may be used if you have stress-induced hyperhidrosis. Anticholinergic drugs, which help prevent sweat gland stimulation, are common for other kinds of hyperhidrosis.
- Iontophoresis. This treatment uses electricity to temporarily turn off the sweat gland, and is most effective in palmar and plantar hyperhidrosis. In the treatment, your hands or feet are placed in water and a gentle current of electricity is passed through the water for about 10 to 20 minutes. Several sessions are usually needed.
- Botox. Botulinum toxin was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in 2004 as a treatment for underarm hyperhidrosis. A series of Botox injections in the affected area(s) can block sweat-stimulating nerves.
- Surgery. Traditional surgery and minimally invasive surgery are options for patients for whom other treatments have been unsuccessful.
- Endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy is a minimally invasive option for sweaty palms. While you are under general anesthesia, the surgeon makes two or three small incisions under the arm and inserts small instruments, including a camera called a thoracoscope, which is used for guidance. The surgeon locates the nerve responsible for the overactive sweat gland and removes or interrupts it.
- If you have severe hyperhidrosis of the armpit, you may undergo surgery to remove the associated nerves.