Conference Coverage

When sweaty palms are more than just sweaty palms



– When you extend your hand to a new patient, and he reflexively wipes his palm before shaking hands, be alert. It’s possible you’re seeing primary hyperhidrosis, a condition that’s both more common and more disabling than once thought.

Problem with sweating - hyperhidrosis Koldunov/iStock/Getty Images

“Looking at the biology of sweating, normally, it’s a good thing – we need it to survive. However, hyperhidrosis is too much of a good thing – it’s an excess of what is needed for normal biology,” said Adam Friedman, MD, speaking at the Orlando Dermatology Aesthetic and Clinical Conference.

Recent data, he pointed out, show that hyperhidrosis is more prevalent than previously thought – about 4.8% of individuals may have the condition, with about half having axillary hyperhidrosis. Symptoms peak in early adulthood, with adults aged 18-54 most affected. “These are the prime working years,” he said.

About 2% of teens are affected, and many adults report that symptoms began before they were 12 years old. Hand hyperhidrosis is a factor for computer and electronic device work, sports, and even handling paper and pencils, noted Dr. Friedman, professor of dermatology at George Washington University, Washington.

“Does it affect quality of life? Yes. We have data to support the impact. The adverse impact is actually greater than that of eczema and psoriasis,” he said, adding that patients won’t always bring up their concerns about sweating. “Often, it’s the patient who apologizes for having sweaty palms or who sticks to the paper on the exam table. It’s worth asking these patients if they are bothered by excessive sweating.”

Is it hyperhidrosis?

A 2016 paper defined hyperhidrosis as “a condition that involves chronic excessive sweating of the underarms, hands, feet, face, groin, or other bodily areas, which is much more than what is normal, and occurs regardless of temperature, exercise, or situation, and may have an impact on quality of life” (Arch Dermatol Res. 2016 Dec;308[10]:743-9). The amount of sweating can be four to five times that seen in healthy controls.

Other clues that excess sweating might be hyperhidrosis? General hyperhidrosis is a secondary syndrome that can be caused by a variety of conditions including endocrine and metabolic disorders and malignancies. Drugs and toxins can also cause generalized excessive sweating.

Focal hyperhidrosis can be primary idiopathic disease; some neuropathies and certain spinal diseases and spinal cord injury can also cause focal hyperhidrosis, though not usually in the axillary/palmar/plantar distribution seen in primary hyperhidrosis.

Before settling on primary hyperhidrosis, the history and exam should also account for other possibilities in the differential: social anxiety disorder, eccrine nevus, gustatory sweating, Frey syndrome, and impaired evaporation could all account for excess sweating, which is also a postsurgical phenomenon for some patients.

Diagnostic criteria call for “focal, visible, excessive sweating” persisting for at least 6 months with no apparent cause. Additionally, patients must have at least two of the additional following criteria: sweating that is bilateral and symmetric, occurs at least once weekly, impairs daily activities, and starts before age 25 years, as well as a positive family history of hyperhidrosis and cessation of sweating during sleep.

The last point is critical, Dr. Friedman said. “If you sweat a lot at night, it’s not hyperhidrosis!”

Though gravimetric evaluation is used in hyperhidrosis research, the history and exam are really where the diagnosis is made in practice, he noted. The Hyperhidrosis Disease Severity Scale is a brief, useful clinical tool that asks patients to peg the extent to which their sweating interferes with daily life.


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