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Skin Care and Diseases

Chronically Sweaty Hands? Surgery May Help

Everyone sweats to some degree during exercise or other exerting activities. But for some people, profuse sweating is a constant that can quickly impact quality-of-life.

Sweating Can Impair Lifestyle

Sweating is a natural involuntary process controlled by the sympathetic nervous system designed to regulate human body temperature and remove toxins from the body. About three percent of Americans have what is known as hyperhidrosis, a condition characterized by excessive sweating primarily affecting sweat glands on the palms, underarms and soles of the feet.

Everyone sweats, but there are some people at the extreme end of the spectrum that sweat so much it seriously impairs their lifestyle. Sweating is more important to people when they become more socially active and enter the workforce. For someone with hyperhidrosis, even shaking hands can become an awkward situation.

Left untreated, severe cases of hyperhidrosis can impact a person's ability to do their job. For example, manual laborers required to use hand tools or nurses who must frequently make contact with patients when measuring vital signs. It can also affect practical tasks such as holding a pencil to write or a steering wheel to drive.

Surgical Treatment for Hyperhidrosis

Most cases can be treated with over the counter dry rubs and antiperspirants or prescription medications. But for the most severe cases involving palm sweating, surgery is the only permanent solution. The procedure, known as endoscopic transthoracic sympathectomy (ETS), is only appropriate for a select group of hyperhidrosis patients and should be a last option. It involves making small incisions under each arm and inserting specialized tools to clip the nerve that controls hand sweating. There are numerous factors for determining if a patient is good candidate for surgery, including:

After the nerve is clipped, excessive sweating is almost immediately eliminated and the patient typically goes home the same day.

This article originally appeared in UC Health Line (7/16/2009), a service of the University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center Public Relations Department and was adapted for use on NetWellness with permission, 2006.

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Last Reviewed: Jul 21, 2009

Michael F Reed, MD Michael F Reed, MD
Assistant Professor of Surgery
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati

Sandra L Starnes, MD Sandra L Starnes, MD
Assistant Professor of Surgery
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati