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Understanding Diaphoresis

Overview

Diaphoresis is the medical term used to describe excessive, abnormal sweating in relation to your environment and activity level. It tends to affect your entire body rather than a part of your body. This condition is also sometimes called secondary hyperhidrosis.

Hyperhidrosis, or primary hyperhidrosis, is also associated with profuse sweating, though it’s thought to be a nervous system disorder. With primary hyperhidrosis, sweating is normally limited to select parts of the body, such as your hands or feet.

Diaphoresis is usually a symptom of an underlying health condition. Some conditions can be life-threatening and require immediate medical attention. It can also be caused by certain medications. Keep reading to learn more about this condition.

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Sweat

Understanding sweat

Did you know?
An adult can sweat as much as 10 to 14 liters in one day.

Sweat plays an important role in cooling your body. When your body temperature rises, your nervous system sends signals to your sweat glands to release salty fluid. As sweat evaporates, this fluid cools the surface of your skin and helps reduce your core body temperature.

It’s perfectly normal to sweat on a hot day or during exercise. This is your body’s way of regulating your temperature. Many people perspire when they’re anxious or stressed, or if they have motion sickness or even an upset stomach. Some people perspire more than others as an inherited trait or because they have more sweat glands.

One study found that people who are physically fit begin perspiring sooner and perspire more during activity. The study also revealed that men sweat more than women. People with obesity also tend to sweat more because larger bodies generate more heat during physical activity.

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Causes

Causes of diaphoresis

Diaphoresis is associated with a broad range of conditions, from sleep apnea and anxiety to sepsis and malaria. Because it’s a symptom of so many conditions, it’s important for your doctor to determine the cause.

Pregnancy

Pregnancy causes hormones to increase in your body. Your metabolism speeds up, which increases your body temperature. This may cause you to perspire more. Pregnancy also causes weight gain, which increases body temperature and the likelihood of sweating.

As long as you don’t have other symptoms, such as a fever, body aches, or vomiting, increased sweating during pregnancy is rarely cause for concern.

Menopause

Up to 85 percent of women experience sweating, particularly at night, and hot flashes during menopause and perimenopause. Perimenopause is the period of time after you stop menstruating, but before menopause starts. Fluctuating hormones, such as estrogen, send false signals to your brain that your body is overheated. This triggers excess perspiration and night sweats.

If you have severe symptoms during perimenopause, you may find relief by taking a low-dose menopausal hormone therapy for a short period of time.

Diabetes

If you have diabetes, sweating is an early warning sign of low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia. Other symptoms of hypoglycemia include:

  • anxiety
  • tremors and shakiness
  • dizziness
  • blurred vision
  • slurred speech

When you have a hypoglycemic event, it’s crucial to restore your blood sugar levels quickly. Untreated, hypoglycemia can be life-threatening.

Learn more: Diabetes: Is sweating normal? »

Hyperthyroidism

Hyperthyroidism is a condition in which your thyroid gland becomes overactive and produces too much of the hormone thyroxine. When this happens, your metabolism speeds up and you can experience a number of symptoms. In addition to heavy sweating, you may experience:

  • nervousness
  • racing heart
  • shaking hands
  • anxiety
  • difficulty sleeping
  • weight loss

Hyperthyroidism is not a medical emergency, but it does require medical treatment. Anti-thyroid medications are the first line of treatment for hyperthyroidism.

Heart attack

A heart attack, or myocardial infarction, occurs when part of your heart muscle is damaged or has died. This usually occurs because oxygen-rich blood can’t reach the heart due to a blockage in one or both of the coronary arteries. Symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • faintness
  • chest discomfort or pain
  • pain in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach
  • shortness of breath
  • nausea or vomiting
  • pale or ashen face

A heart attack is a medical emergency. Call your local emergency services if you suspect you or someone near you is having a heart attack.

Some types of cancer

Diaphoresis is associated with certain types of cancer, including:

The cancer, an infection, or the cancer treatment may cause excessive sweating.

Anaphylaxis

Anaphylaxis is a severe systemic allergic reaction. It occurs almost immediately after you’re exposed to a substance to which you’re extremely allergic. Other symptoms of anaphylaxis include:

  • hives
  • red, itchy skin
  • difficulty breathing due to a narrowing of the airways
  • rapid decrease in blood pressure
  • vomiting or diarrhea
  • loss of consciousness

Anaphylaxis is life-threatening. If you suspect someone is experiencing anaphylaxis, call your local emergency medical services immediately.

Withdrawal from drugs or alcohol

Profuse sweating often occurs when people stop drinking alcohol or taking drugs. Other symptoms of withdrawal may include:

  • agitation
  • tremors
  • anxiety
  • racing heartbeat
  • fluctuating blood pressure levels
  • nausea or vomiting
  • seizures

Because some symptoms that occur when quitting alcohol or drugs can be life-threatening, you shouldn’t go through withdrawal alone. Get help from a medical professional trained in addiction.

Medications

Certain prescription and over-the-counter medications can cause diaphoresis, including:

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See a doctor

When to see your doctor

See your doctor if you begin sweating more than usual and find that it embarrasses you or interferes with normal life. If you suddenly start sweating on one side of your body, this could be a sign of a condition called asymmetric hyperhidrosis. See your doctor immediately because this may have a neurologic cause. You should also see your doctor if the perspiration causes any skin irritation or rash lasting longer than a few days. This can be a sign of a fungal or bacterial skin infection.

Seek immediate medical attention

Call your local emergency services if you have profuse sweating with any of the following symptoms:

  • dizziness or loss of consciousness
  • nausea or vomiting
  • cold, clammy skin
  • pale skin color
  • chest pain or heart palpitations
  • trouble breathing
  • seizures
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Treatment

Treatment

Treatment for diaphoresis depends on the cause. In certain areas of the body, particularly the underarms, sweating may be controlled with a clinical-strength antiperspirant. Look for one that contains 10 percent to 15 percent aluminum chloride, which plugs your sweat glands to your skin. Onabotulinumtoxina injections (Botox) may provide short-term relief. Another possible treatment is iontophoresis, a procedure that uses a small electrical current to temporarily reduce sweating on the hands and feet. An oral anticholinergic medication, such as oxybutynin or glycopyrrolate (Robinul, Robinul Forte), may be prescribed.

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Outlook

Outlook

If you experience diaphoresis, your outlook depends on the underlying cause. Once the cause has been treated, the excessive sweating should stop.

You may be able to do to reduce the amount of sweat by making the following lifestyle adjustments.

  • Wear clothes made of natural fibers that can breathe, such as cotton, silk, or linen.
  • Wear layers, so you can remove clothing as needed.
  • Avoid tight clothing that can cause you to overheat.
  • Cool down your environment with air conditioning and fans.
  • Identify substances that trigger your sweating, such as alcohol, caffeine, and spicy foods, and avoid those triggers.
  • Use absorbent powder or baking soda under your arms, in your groin area, under your breasts, and on your feet.
  • Drink plenty of cool water.
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