How to Talk to Your Doctor About Excessive Sweating
It's normal to sweat when you're nervous or hot, but if you're soaking through your shirt and socks at the end of each day, you may have a real medical problem called hyperhidrosis.
Instead of trying to cover up heavy sweating, see your doctor. Excessive sweating isn't normal, and it's not something you have to live with. It can be treated.
If you're embarrassed to talk about your problem or don't know how to begin the conversation with your doctor, here are a few tips to ensure that your first appointment is no sweat.
When to Call Your Doctor About Heavy Sweating
How do you know that you have a problem with excessive sweating? Here are a few clues:
- You produce so much sweat that you soak through your shirt, pants, or socks
- You sweat even when it is cool outside or you aren't exercising
- You sweat at night, especially if you soak through your sheets
- You have other symptoms, such as chest pain or heart palpitations, shortness of breath, fever, or unintentional weight loss
A number of different doctors treat hyperhidrosis. You can start by seeing your primary care doctor, or call for an appointment with an internist or dermatologist.
What to Tell Your Doctor About Your Heavy Sweating
When you go in for your first doctor's visit, it helps to know a little bit about your sweating patterns and what seems to trigger heavy sweating. In the days or weeks before your appointment, keep a diary of the following information:
- How many times a day do you have to change your clothes?
- How many times a day do you bathe or shower, and what type of soap do you use?
- What methods have you tried (such as antiperspirants or absorbent foot pads) to control excessive sweating?
- How has heavy sweating affected your life -- for example, have you had to change social plans, lost friends, or been affected at work because of hyperhidrosis?
- Do you experience any skin irritation at the site of the heavy sweating?
- How does heavy sweating affect you emotionally? Do you ever get sad or angry because of it?
What to Expect at Your Doctor's Office
Your doctor will ask you about your sweating -- when it occurs, and what seems to trigger it. You'll also be asked about your medical history, including any medical conditions you have and medicines you are taking.
The doctor will do a medical exam, which may include:
- Lab tests to check for conditions that can cause hyperhidrosis, such as heart disease, thyroid problems, and diabetes.
- Tests for hyperhidrosis. The starch-iodine test uses a mixture of iodine and starch, which turn blue in areas where your body is sweating excessively. The paper test uses a special type of paper applied to the affected area to measure the volume of sweat you are producing.
Based on your health history and exam, your doctor will determine whether you have primary hyperhidrosis or secondary hyperhidrosis.
- Primary hyperhidrosis is the most common cause of excessive sweating. It's not due to any medical condition -- it is the condition. Primary hyperhidrosis tends to start in childhood and run in families, and it usually causes heavy sweating on the palms of the hands, soles of the feet, and armpits.
- Secondary hyperhidrosis is caused by a medical condition (such as cancer or an infection) or medication (which can include antidepressants and antipsychotic drugs). Sweating can occur over wider areas of your body.
Knowing which kind of sweating problem you have can help your doctor find the right treatment for it. That treatment may involve antiperspirants, iontophoresis (a technique that uses a low current passed through water to treat heavy sweating of the hands and feet), or Botox injections to block the nerve signals that trigger your sweat glands.
If sweating is due to another condition, then treating the primary condition may help with symptoms. Discuss all of your options with your doctor. Make sure you fully understand them, and their possible side effects, before you begin hyperhidrosis treatment.
Also ask your doctor whether your health insurance will cover the cost of treatment. Some insurance companies and policies will pay for all or part of hyperhidrosis treatments, and it's important to know how much of your treatment you will need to cover yourself.
Keep in close touch with your doctor while you are undergoing treatment for excessive sweating. If your hyperhidrosis isn't responding to antiperspirants, iontophoresis, or Botox, the next step may be to try oral medication or surgery.
- International Hyperhidrosis Society.
- American Academy of Family Physicians.
- Cleveland Clinic.
- Bolognia J. Dermatology, 2nd ed, Mosby Elsevier, 2008.