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Excessive sweating

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 2 minutes read

Sweating is a normal healthy process to help us regulate our body temperature. However, sometimes this system can go into overdrive, causing an excess or hyperhidrosis. People feel incredibly embarrassed about this, which can create great anxiety and a lack of confidence in social settings.

It can be localized, such as just under the armpits, the back, or on the face, or it can affect the entire body. Some medical conditions can cause this, but no particular cause is often found.

What causes excessive sweating?

It’s important to consider potential physical or psychological causes, as sweating may be reduced if these can be addressed or treated. Anxiety can cause excessive sweating due to the increased heart rate and workload on the heart. Heart failure or irregular heartbeats can increase the amount of sweating similarly.

Substance abuse, such as using illicit drugs or excessive alcohol, can cause sweating. Infections can cause a fever, causing the body temperature to rise and inducing sweating to try to bring it down. Problems with metabolism may prompt it, and an overactive thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism) would be a common cause. Women experiencing menopause can get hot flushes that are accompanied by sweating. If you have drenching night sweats and have to change your nightclothes or bedding, this could be something more serious, such as tuberculosis (TB) or cancer.

Excessive sweating may be something that runs in the family, and it may just be that some individuals are more prone to sweating than others.

How can I manage it myself?

Keep a diary of when it is worst to identify possible triggers that can be avoided. Avoid tight clothing and synthetic fabrics – cotton is best. Wear white or black (rather than blue or grey) clothing to minimize the signs of sweating. Also worth considering is using underarm pads to absorb excess sweat and protect delicate or expensive clothing.

Healthwords pharmacists' top tips

Products in the pharmacy can help with excessive sweating by masking the symptoms. Wearing moisture-wicking socks can help – you'll probably need to change them at least twice daily.

Aluminum chloride roll-on antiperspirant is available over-the-counter and will reduce your sweat rate. You can buy absorbent sole inserts for your shoes or trainers and apply absorbent foot powder twice daily. Speak to a pharmacist if unsure which products suit you best.

When should I see my doctor?

If you are experiencing excessive sweating, your doctor will listen to your concerns and assess any possible triggers and how much this affects your confidence. If you are experiencing night sweats, especially if you’ve had any TB exposure or have unintended weight loss and other symptoms, you should see your doctor urgently.

Your doctor may take your vital signs – pulse rate, breathing rate, and blood pressure – and they may examine you. Depending on their assessment, they may send you for blood tests or other investigations. If necessary, they can send you to a hospital specialist. They sometimes refer you to a dermatologist if there is no suspected medical condition, but sweating is excessive.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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