Sweating is not the most pleasant thing that our bodies do. It makes us wet and smelly, not to mention that it stain our clothes. There are billion-dollar industries for deodorants, antiperspirants and stain removers all designed to help us combat this "problem."
Is it really a problem? Given the fact that this release of clear, salty liquid is how the human body cools itself and regulates temperature, it's actually a really good thing that we sweat.
Perspiration is pretty normal when we're hot or when we exercise, but some conditions cause our bodies to kick into overdrive on sweat production. Not fun. Check out the rest of this article as we sweat out 10 reasons that make people schvitz too much.
Hyperhidrosis is just a fancy way of saying too much sweat. The 2-3 percent of the population with this condition sweat a lot more than usual, and do so somewhat unpredictably – that is, not necessarily when they are hot or exercising [source: Medline Plus]. This excess sweating can lead, not just to discomfort of excess wetness and increased risk of fungal infections and skin conditions, but emotional stress as well.
While doctors aren't sure of the causes of this condition -- other than noting that it seems to run in families -- they do have several ways to treat it. Some treatments are milder, like heavy-duty antiperspirant or medications that prevent the stimulation of sweat glands. Other treatments are out there, too, like Botox, which temporarily blocks the nerves that stimulate sweating, or iontophoresis, which uses a gentle electrical current to temporarily turn off sweat glands.
Both of these solutions, while generally helpful, are temporary and need continued treatments to remain effective. For patients who don't respond to any of these treatments, there's always the option of surgery to either remove some sweat glands directly or another surgery called a sympathectomy in which a surgeon cuts or destroys certain nerves in an attempt to turn off the signal that tells the body to sweat excessively.
Doctors will call the same type of excess sweating secondary hyperhidrosis if the sweating happens as a result of another condition. As it happens, we can tell you about a few of those, too.
Hot flashes and night sweats -- two of the signs that a woman is going through menopause. If you're a guy and won't ever experience this joy for yourself, you've most certainly seen a close female friend or family member get flushed and sweaty for seemingly no reason at all.
Well, there is a good reason for this excess sweating. Hormones. Women's bodies are being altered rapidly in unseen ways, courtesy of unpredictable changes in hormone production by their ovaries, the two main culprit hormones being estrogen and progesterone. These chemical substances travel through the blood to other parts of the body and can control how cells work. For example, estrogen can affect the cells in your blood vessels, causing them to expand. So during a hot flash, women's faces and upper bodies get red and flushed thanks to these blood vessels expanding. The result is excessive heat and, oftentimes, excessive sweating several times an hour, a few times a day, or maybe as little as a couple times a week.
Keep reading to learn way how hormones can make you sweat more than C+C Music Factory.
Hormones strike again. This time they're causing excess sweating because of the thyroid gland overdoing it on the production of thyroid hormone, a condition known as hyperthyroidism. This little gland is nestled right under our voice boxes in our necks and is responsible for making thyroid hormones that affect a number of bodily processes including metabolism, brain development, breathing, weight and body temperature.
What happens when your thyroid goes wacky and produces too much thyroid hormone? Your body temperature is affected, your heat intolerance rises, and you start sweating more than normal. While sometimes very severe, hyperthyroidism is treatable with medications and/or surgery, and sometimes can even go away without treatment at all.
It's not that hot out, but you find yourself sweating profusely. Not to overdramatize this situation (I mean, maybe you had some spicy kung pao chicken for lunch), but excess sweating could be a warning sign of heart failure in men and women.
Heart attack victims are often known to sweat a lot just before and during a heart attack. A major portion of the body's nervous system, the sympathetic nervous system, controls sweating throughout our bodies. When a heart attack kicks in, the sympathetic nervous system gets activated, causing the sweat to pour out.
While there are obviously much more terrible things associated with having cancer, sweating is on the list of symptoms with this disease. Doctors don't fully understand why this is but theorize that the sweating may be associated with the body trying to fight the cancer. Some types of cancer cause sweating more than others, including bone cancer, liver cancer, leukemia and lymphoma [source: Cancer Research UK].
It's not always the cancer itself causing excess perspiration. The sweating can be a secondary symptom associated with cancer medications, infections associated with the disease and hormone changes. Morphine and chemotherapy can cause patients to get hot flashes and sweat. Infections are probably one of the most common reason for cancer-induced sweating. The fevers that come with infections cause the body to try to cool itself, kicking those sweat glands into high gear.
And just like hormone changes in menopause and hyperthyroidism can cause sweating, hormone changes associated with cancer and its treatments (chemo, radiation and others) can bring on serious perspiration. In fact, certain treatments for breast and prostate cancer can actually induce menopause or menopause-like effects causing hot flashes and sweating.
Infectious diseases like AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis have all sorts of terrible symptoms. Left untreated or at their most severe, they can cause death. With that in mind, sweating seems like, well, nothing to sweat about.
But this uncomfortable symptom can certainly make people with these diseases feel much worse. Night sweats are all quite common with each of these ailments. Patients will wake up drenched in sweat as a result of a severe hot flash, often associated with fever and infection from these diseases.
Now, these are all infectious diseases that can be transmitted from person to person. But not to fear, shaking someone's sweaty palm is not going to spread any of these diseases.
Each year, one in 20 Americans will be diagnosed with panic disorder [source: National Alliance on Mental Illness]. That means millions of people every year experience repeated attacks of fear in response to ordinary situations. What's that like? Severe panic attacks can actually look a lot like heart attacks: pounding heart, dizziness, chest pain, and ... you guessed it, sweating. That same sympathetic nervous system that gets activated during a heart attack and makes you sweat does the exact same thing to your body during a panic attack.
Given that panic disorder causes attacks that come out of the blue, people with the condition live in continual fear of an impending attack. But some sweat-inducing panic attacks do come from a direct cause. We'll tell you about those in a second.
Spiders. Airplanes. Heights. You may not even bat an eyelash reading those words, but some people freak out just thinking about these phobia-inducing subjects. And not just some people; about 19 million adult Americans have specific phobias to a variety of objects or situations [source: National Institute of Mental Health].
While panic disorder causes panic attacks in people for no identifiable reason, phobias are another type of anxiety disorder that elicits symptoms of panic attacks due to an intense fear of something specific that poses little to no danger.
And what happens when a person with a phobia encounters the object of their dread? The fear of the object or situation starts in the brain but quickly affects other parts of human physiology. Heart rate increases. Blood pressure ratchets up. And the sympathetic nervous system goes into highly active mode, which, of course, translates into what we've been talking about this whole time: excess sweat.
Picture it: sitting down to a relaxing dinner of spicy tacos and a margarita, followed by an after-dinner coffee. Sounds lovely. That is, until you break out in a profuse sweat. All three of these food and beverages can cause excess perspiration.
Spicy food excites receptors, actually pain fibers, in the skin that respond to heat. When these pain fibers are triggered by the spice-causing chemicals in foods like chili peppers, the central nervous system gets tricked into perceiving the stimulus as heat. The body, as a result, acts accordingly to cool itself down using its natural mechanism of sweat.
Drinking alcohol can also leave you wishing you'd put on extra deodorant. Alcohol causes blood vessels near the skin to enlarge, prompting your sweat glands to start working. This can happen for a lot of people, but when the sweating seems excessive proportional to the amount of alcohol consumed, it is often a sign of alcohol intolerance, where people lack a special enzyme that breaks down alcohol.
And finally, caffeinated drinks and foods can also cause excess sweating. The caffeine molecule stimulates the central nervous system, causing your sweat glands to get activated. And before you know it, you're reaching for a towel to wipe excess sweat from your forehead.
In a total paradox, drinking alcohol can make you sweat, but stopping your consumption of it can also make you perspire extra. We'll tell you why next.
Sweating is a classic sign of withdrawal. When people become physically dependent on substances like alcohol and opiate drugs (heroin, morphine, Oxycontin and others) and then stop taking these substances, the body takes a while to recalibrate to its normal operation. And that's when withdrawal symptoms, like excess sweating, kick in.
It's ironic how drinking alcohol makes you sweat, but then stopping your alcohol consumption after becoming dependent on it can make the sweating even worse. Never fear. While incredibly uncomfortable, it's temporary. Some medications are available to help, but the symptoms will eventually go away on their own. Depending on the severity of the withdrawal, it can take weeks for symptoms to subside.
While body odor is most often caused by sweating, there are many other things that can make you smell. Find out what they are at HowStuffWorks.
- American Academy of Dermatology. "Hyperhidrosis." 2013. (May 5, 2014) http://www.aad.org/dermatology-a-to-z/diseases-and-treatments/e---h/hyperhidrosis
- American Lung Association. "Pneumonia." 2014. (May 7, 2014) http://www.lung.org/lung-disease/pneumonia/
- Cancer Research UK. "Dealing with Sweating." March 5, 2014. (May 6, 2014) http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/cancer-help/coping-with-cancer/coping-physically/skin/managing/dealing-with-sweating
- Gaglioti, Anne. Clinical Assistant Professor of Family Medicine. Personal interview. April 27, 2014.
- Green, Barry. "Why is it that eating spicy, "hot" food causes the same physical reaction as does physical heat (burning and sweating, for instance)?" Scientific American. Oct. 21, 1999. (May 8, 2014) http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/why-is-it-that-eating-spi/
- Harvard Health Publications. "Perimenopause: Rocky road to menopause." August 2005. (May 5, 2014) http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsweek/Perimenopause_Rocky_road_to_menopause.htm
- Hemphill, Meg. "8 Surprising Sweat Triggers." Huffington Post. July 19, 2011. (May 8, 2014) http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/19/sweat-triggers_n_902258.html#s311265&title=Alcohol
- Kishi, Takuya. "Heart Failure as an autonomic nervous system dysfunction." Journal of Cardiology. Vol 59. Pages 117-122. 2012.
- Mayo Clinic. "Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid)." Nov. 12, 2012. (May 5, 2014) http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hyperthyroidism/basics/treatment/con-20020986
- Mayo Clinic. "Heart Disease." Jan. 16, 2013. (May 7, 2014) http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/heart-disease/basics/definition/con-20034056
- Medline Plus. "Hyperhydrosis." May 13, 2011. (May 5, 2014) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/007259.htm
- Medline Plus. "Hyperthyroidism." June 7, 2013. (May 5, 2014) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000356.htm
- Medline Plus. "Opiate Withdrawal." Jan. 23, 2012. (May 9, 2014) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000949.htm
- Medline Plus. "Pneumonia – adults." May 30, 2013. (May 7, 2014) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000145.htm
- Medline Plus. "Sweat." March 27, 2014. (April 30, 2014) http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/sweat.html
- National Alliance on Mental Illness. "Panic Disorder." February 2013. (May 7, 2014) http://www.nami.org/Content/NavigationMenu/Inform_Yourself/About_Mental_Illness/By_Illness/Panic_Disorder.htm
- National Cancer Institute. "Causes of Hot Flashes and Night Sweats in Patients with Cancer." April 16, 2014. (May 6, 2014) http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/supportivecare/sweatsandhotflashes/Patient/page2
- National Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases Information Service. "Hyperthyroidism." Aug. 16, 2012. (May 5, 2014) http://www.endocrine.niddk.nih.gov/pubs/hyperthyroidism/index.aspx
- National Health Services Choices. "Hyperhidrosis." Oct. 1, 2013. (May 5, 2014) http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Hyperhidrosis/Pages/Introduction.aspx
- National Institute of Mental Health. "Panic Disorder." (May 7, 2014) http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/panic-disorder/index.shtml
- National Institute of Mental Health. "Anxiety Disorders." (May 8, 2014) http://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/anxiety-disorders/index.shtml?wvsessionid=wv650bd43245ce405884dd789794894544#pub6
- National Institute on Aging. "Menopause: Time for a Change." June 26, 2013. (May 5, 2014) http://www.nia.nih.gov/health/publication/menopause-time-change/introduction-menopause
- Sanford, John. "Blood, Sweat and Fears." Stanford Medicine. Spring 2013. (May 8, 2014) http://stanmed.stanford.edu/2013spring/article6.html
- The Society of Thoracic Surgeons. "Hyperhidrosis." 2014. (May 7, 2014) http://www.sts.org/patient-information/other-types-surgery/hyperhidrosis