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excessive sweating

Alternative Names
diaphoresis, excessive perspiration, profuse sweating

Excessive sweating is difficult to measure. It is usually noticed by a person or by the doctor.

What is going on in the body?
The main purpose of sweating in the body is to get rid of excess body heat. Sweat on the skin evaporates, and this cools the body. Excessive sweating can sometimes be a sign of serious underlying conditions.

What are the signs and symptoms of the condition?
One expects to sweat a lot after strenuous exercise or when the weather is very hot. When someone has an abnormal amount of sweating that is not related to exercise or the weather, he or she should see a doctor. The doctor may ask the following:
  • How long has the sweating been going on?
  • When does the sweating occur? All day or only at night?
  • Is there a fever? Does the person feel sick?
  • Is there a family history of excessive sweating?
  • Is the person taking any medications or illegal drugs?
  • Does the sweating occur in only some areas of the body or all over?
Any other symptoms may be important as well. For example, unintended weight loss, headaches, cough, or chest pain are important symptoms that may point to a certain cause for the sweating.

What are the causes and risks of the condition?
Excessive sweating has many causes, including: Other causes are also possible. In some cases, no cause can be found.

What can be done to prevent the condition?
Prevention is related to the cause. For example, excessive sweating due to exercise or hot weather can be avoided by avoiding activity or using air conditioning. Low blood sugar can often be avoided by getting enough to eat and taking medications to treat diabetes. Many cases of excessive sweating cannot be prevented.

How is the condition diagnosed?
Diagnosis starts with a history and physical examination. This may be all that is needed in some cases to figure out the cause of the excessive sweating. In other cases, further testing may be needed. For example, thyroid function tests can detect increased thyroid hormone levels and a fasting blood glucose test can detect low blood sugar. A chest x-ray can often help diagnose pneumonia or tuberculosis. A special type of x-ray, called a cranial CT scan or mRI scan, can help diagnose a stroke. Other tests may be needed in some cases.

What are the long-term effects of the condition?
Excessive sweating can lead to dehydration and salt imbalances in the body. Other long-term effects are related to the cause. For example, a stroke can leave a person paralysed or unable to talk. Infections often go away on their own or after treatment with antibiotics and may have no long-term effects.

What are the risks to others?
Excessive sweating itself is not contagious and poses no risk to others. If the cause of the sweating is an infection, the infection can be contagious.

What are the treatments for the condition?
People need to increase their fluid and salt intake when they have excessive sweating. The fluid and salt may need to be given through a tube in the veins in severe cases or if persons cannot drink fluids on their own. Other treatments are directed at the cause of the sweating.
  • Persons with infections may need antibiotics.
  • Persons with high thyroid hormone levels may need medication to control their thyroid levels.
  • Persons with cancer may need surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy.
  • Persons who have had a stroke may need physiotherapy to be able to walk or talk again.
What are the side effects of the treatments?
Side effects depend on the treatments used. All medications have possible side effects. For example, antibiotics may cause allergic reactions and stomach upset. Specific side effects depend on the medications used. Surgery carries a risk of bleeding and infection.

What happens after treatment for the condition?
What happens after treatment depends on what is causing the excessive sweating. If the cause is "fixed" or reversed, no further treatment may be needed. This often occurs after an infection, such as pneumonia, is treated with antibiotics. People who have had a stroke may need lifelong medical and nursing care. Those with cancer may die if treatment is unsuccessful.

How is the condition monitored?
The person can monitor their sweating at home. Other monitoring depends on the cause. For example, those with a heart attack may need close monitoring in the intensive care unit for several days.

Author: Adam Brochert, MD
Reviewer: HealthAnswers Australia Medical Review Panel
Editor: Dr David Taylor, Chief Medical Officer HealthAnswers Australia
Last Updated: 1/10/2001
Potential conflict of interest information for reviewers available on request

This website and article is not a substitute for independent professional advice. Nothing contained in this website is intended to be used as medical advice and it is not intended to be used to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease, nor should it be used for therapeutic purposes or as a substitute for your own health professional's advice.  All Health and any associated parties do not accept any liability for any injury, loss or damage incurred by use of or reliance on the information.


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