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Ask the Medical Expert Archives 2000-2004

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Heavy Perspiration Problem
May 2000

Q. A while back you answered a question about heavy perspiration, stating that it was normal and actually helpful. I'm one of those that ends up looking like a drowned rat. Is there anything that can be done about it? I'm a waitress and it's embarrassing to look like a drowned rat at work.

A. Excessive sweat production is called hyperhidrosis. It can be either local (palms, axilla) or generalized. By your description, I assume you have a generalized hyperhidrosis. This can be "normal," in other words, we can find no specific cause. Or, it can be caused by emotional factors or any of series of medical problems such as disorders of the thyroid gland or some other common (such as diabetes) or uncommon (like pheochromocytoma) endocrine problems. A good evaluation by your doctor can find if any of these are likely in you.

Treatment of localized hyperhidrosis can be through topical medication or, in severe cases, surgery. Generalized hyperhidrosis is often more difficult to treat.

A brief discussion of both types of hyperhidrosis is available at http://www.dermnet.org.nz/dna.hyperhidrosis/hyper.html. A much more detailed discussion, including the pros and cons related to several treatments, is at http://www.parsec.it/summit/hyper1e.htm.

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