Hyperhidrosis is defined as abnormally excessive sweating unrelated to heat or exercise. If you have this condition you might find yourself sweating so much that it soaks through your clothes or drips off your hands. Hands, feet, underarms and the face are areas that are typically affected, and the sweating usually occurs on both sides of the body.
The most common form of hyperhidrosis is known as primary focal (essential) hyperhidrosis. The nerves responsible for signaling sweat glands become overactive, even though they haven’t been triggered by physical activity or a rise in temperature. It’s interesting to note that the problem becomes even worse with stress or nervousness. A person’s palms, soles, and sometimes face, are often affected. It can run in families so there might be a genetic component.
Secondary hyperhidrosis, which is less common than essential hyperhidrosis, occurs when excess sweating is due to a medical condition. This type of hyperhidrosis is more likely to cause sweating all over the body. Secondary hyperhidrosis can be triggered by:
- Menopause hot flashes
- Thyroid problems
- Low blood sugar
- Some types of cancer
- Heart attack
- Nervous system disorders
- Certain medications
- Opioid withdrawal
Not surprisingly, heavy sweating can cause embarrassment and even social anxiety. In this International Hyperhidrosis Society article, several studies pertaining to secondary hyperhidrosis are cited. There appears to be some type of correlation between excessive sweating and various mental health disorders. In one 2002 study, the authors concluded:
…that most patients with hyperhidrosis have no psychopathology and that symptoms of anxiety, depression, and social isolation in some of the patients were a reaction to the disorder rather than the cause.
Results of another 2002 study state:
In particular, those with SAD in this study also experienced heightened physiologic arousal in the form of blushing and tremor along with excessive sweating. They also displayed more fear and avoidance behaviors.
In the most recent study to date, Dr. Dee Anna Glaser, a board-certified dermatologist, studied the connection between excessive sweating and mental health conditions. She noted that many of her patients with hyperhidrosis also had either anxiety or depression, and some even had experienced suicidal thoughts. This led to her conducting a study to further understand the connection between mental health and hyperhidrosis.
Results of her study indicate that people with hyperhidrosis are more likely than the general population to have anxiety, depression, and Attention Deficit Disorder, regardless of gender or age.
Says Dr. Glaser:
“To some degree was I surprised, but based on what I was hearing in my clinics, I wasn’t. I am a little surprised at just how prevalent this is.”
What surprised Dr. Glaser the most was the association between hyperhidrosis and Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). She feels this connection should be explored further by connecting with individuals who have experience with ADD and working together to understand the link between the two.
While the nature of the relationship between hyperhidrosis and mental health conditions is not yet clear, Dr. Glaser feels it is important for patients and doctors to be aware of this potential connection. She says:
“We need to proactively ask our patients with hyperhidrosis if they suffer with or have symptoms of anxiety, depression or ADD. We can let them know that’s pretty common and help them find care from the appropriate professionals.”
Dr. Glaser explains this is especially important because the onset of hyperhidrosis tends to occur during the teen and early adult years – a time when people can be vulnerable to mental health conditions. They might feel isolated, so knowing they are not the only ones with these issues can be helpful.
While more research is needed to decipher the connection between hyperhidrosis and mental health issues, we can use the information we already have to steer people in the right direction for support and possible treatment.