Defining Hyperhidrosis

In some people, the body’s mechanism for cooling itself is overactive — so overactive that they may sweat four or five times more than is necessary, or normal. When sweating is this extreme it can be embarrassing, uncomfortable, anxiety-inducing, dangerous, and disabling. It often disrupts all aspects of a person's life, from career choices and recreational activities to relationships, emotional well-being, and self-confidence. This kind of excessive sweating is a serious medical condition. It's called hyperhidrosis and it afflicts millions of people around the world (nearly 5% of the world's population). But, due to lack of awareness among sufferers and lack of education among medical professionals, most people are never diagnosed or relieved of their symptoms.

It doesn't have to be this way.

The International Hyperhidrosis Society is dedicated to improving understanding of this debilitating condition and helping sufferers get relief. If you or someone you care about suffers from hyperhidrosis, you should know that treatments for excessive sweating are available. We’ve got information to help you understand hyperhidrosis and we can help you find the support and treatment you need to live the life you deserve. But next, you need to understand the two types of hyperhidrosis so you can make your game plan--and get back in the game!

ABCs of Hyperhidrosis Diagnosis

There are two types of hyperhidrosis (Hh): primary and secondary.

Secondary Hh is sweating that is caused by or is a symptom of another underlying medical condition or is a side effect of a medication. Ruling out secondary Hh (or responding to secondary Hh appropriately) is the first step in Hh management. After this has been done, a diagnosis of primary (or idiopathic) Hh can be solidified using the ABCs, below.

A:  Age of onset - Primary Hh usually begins during childhood or adolescence. But, sufferers may ask for help at any time in their condition journey. Because of stigma, shame, embarrassment, and/or a common belief that nothing can be done, most sufferers wait 10 years or more before asking for help, if ever.  The earlier we can intervene, the less harm it can do to the body, mind, and soul.

B:  Bilateral - Hh sufferers experience bilateral (on both sides of the body), symmetric, focal involvement of palms, feet, face/scalp, and/or underarms (sometimes along with other specific bilateral body areas). 

C:  Cessation during sleep - Primary Hh does not cause excessive sweating during sleep. 

D:  Duration - To be considered Hh, disruptive, extreme sweating episodes typically need to have been occurring consistently for the past few months. Healthcare providers often use 2 or more episodes per week for the past 6+ months as an instructive timeline.  

E:  Episodes - Extreme, uncontrollable sweating will likely not be constant with primary Hh. Most sufferers will experience episodes of varying frequency, length, and degree. These episodes are not related to the weather, to hot conditions, to exercise, or to stressful conditions.

F:  Family - 2/3rds of primary Hh sufferers indicate other family members have Hh, too. Keep in mind, however, that due to potential stigma and shame associated with the condition, family members may not talk about it and may keep it hidden from each other.

G: Gets in the way - Some level of sweating and increased sweating is to be expected in life. But Hh gets in the way of sufferers' abilities to function, participate in school and athletics, work comfortably and at their fullest potential, have fun, pursue dreams, develop relationships, and more. Further, it has been shown that Hh has a deep impact on the mental health of sufferers, especially its youngest sufferers.

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