What Is Sweat?

Sweating is a normal bodily function, and your body releases sweat without a conscious effort. However, excessive sweating can become a social and psychological concern, and sometimes it can be caused by an underlying health issue. Read on to learn more.

9 minute read

Last Updated July 8, 2020

How To Stop Sweating - Heart Symptoms - 1MD

Sweating is the release of salty fluid from your sweat glands. It is a normal bodily function that helps regulate your internal body temperature.

When the internal body temperature, the external temperature, or your emotional state changes, your body will begin sweating. Sweating in normal amounts is a healthy bodily process, but sweating too much or not enough can cause problems. 

What Is Sweat?

The most common areas to sweat are your face, armpits, palms of your hands, and feet. Your body has close to three million sweat glands that fall within two categories. 

Eccrine sweat glands are all over the body and produce a lightweight and odorless sweat. Apocrine sweat glands are in the air follicles of your body and produce a heavier sweat with a distinct odor. When this sweat mixes with bacteria on your skin, you get body odor.

Your autonomic nervous system controls sweating without your conscious control. Exercise or hot weather causes your body temperature to rise, and sweat is automatically released through ducts. The sweat moistens your skin so it can cool down as it evaporates. Not sweating enough can put you at risk for overheating, and sweating too much can be both physically and psychologically harmful.

Causes of Sweating

Sweating should occur regularly as part of your daily life, but there are some factors that can cause increased sweating. 

High temperatures: Both elevated body temperatures and outside temperature can cause you to sweat more than usual.

Stress: There are certain emotions that cause stress and trigger excessive sweating, such as anger, fear, embarrassment, anxiety, and emotional stress.

Foods: Certain foods can stimulate a specific type of sweating known as gustatory perspiration. Spicy foods, alcohol, and caffeinated drinks can all provoke this type of sweating.

Medications: Sweating can be triggered by the use of some medications, including fever-reducing drugs, painkillers, and synthetic thyroid hormones. 

Illness: Sweating can also be triggered by some illnesses such as cancer, infections, hypoglycemia, and CRPS (chronic regional pain syndrome). This is a rare type of chronic pain typically affecting arms and legs. 

Menopause: As hormones fluctuate with menopause, women experience hot flashes and sweating.

What Causes Excessive Sweating?

You need to tell your doctor right away if you have excessive sweating or no sweat at all. 

♦ Hypohidrosis (the absence of sweat) can be dangerous when your body needs to cool down. If you do not produce enough sweat in hot temperatures, your risk for heatstroke and serious illness increases.

♦ Hyperhidrosis (excessive sweating) can be embarrassing and can prevent you from performing daily activities. It can also be dangerous to lose fluids from your body in higher quantities. 

Sweating may be a normal bodily process but there are times when it can be indicative of an underlying medical problem. If you experience sweating along with any of these symptoms, you need to seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Chest pain
Dizziness
Shortness of breath
♦ Continued sweating for an extended time without a cause

Sweating while sleeping is uncomfortable and can disrupt sleep. Should you notice excessive sweating through the day and night sweats with no identifiable cause, you need to speak with your doctor. 

Night sweats are common in women going through menopause, but they can happen with men too. Infections, certain cancers, and neurological conditions can cause night sweats in men and women.

Secondary generalized hyperhidrosis is the term given to excessive sweating caused by an underlying condition or illness. This generally starts in adulthood and will cause you to sweat excessively all over your body or in one area. In these cases, you will also have night sweats. Conditions that are known to cause excessive sweating and night sweats include:

Anxiety: Anxiety can stimulate your nerves, which can cause excess sweating. As a reaction to emotional stress, your body produces more sweat from the apocrine glands.

Cancer: As your body tries to fight cancer, your body can sweat from working hard. Night sweats are also common with cancer, as a result of the treatments like chemotherapy, which alters hormones. 

Cold and Flu: Having a cold or flu comes with high fevers, and this increases your internal body temperature, which can cause you to sweat. 
Complex Regional Pain Syndrome: This condition causes chronic pain, and although very rare, it is extremely uncomfortable. It is strongly associated with inflammation, which causes temperature changes in your body, resulting in skin color changes and sweating.

Hypoglycemia: This condition is marked by low blood sugar levels, and as a result, your body goes into fight-or-flight mode. This triggers the hormones that cause sweating, so when you have low blood sugar levels often, you can also sweat more.

Hyperthyroidism: The thyroid is responsible for the release of hormones, and when this gland is overactive, it can speed up the processes in your body that cause anxiety. A rapid heartbeat and sweating is the result.

Heart disease: Sweating alone will not be a sign of heart disease, but if paired with chest pain, nausea, and shortness of breath, it could be heart disease.  

Stroke: Strokes are medical emergencies, so symptoms are important. A cold sweat occurs with a stroke, and it will be paired with uncomfortable pressure as well as nausea. 

Tuberculosis: Sometimes, tuberculosis does not produce symptoms. When symptoms do appear, they include fever, which can contribute to night sweats.

Treatments Excessive Sweating

There are lifestyle modifications you can make to minimize sweating and medical treatments for excessive sweating. 

♦ Wear lighter clothing and not too many layers to allow your skin to breathe.
♦ Wash dried sweat from your body and face.
♦ Change from sweaty clothes right away to reduce the risk of bacterial infections.
♦ Drink water and sports drinks regularly to replace fluids and electrolytes lost through sweat.

Your doctor may also prescribe the following to be used along with your daily modifications to control sweating.

♦ Specialized antiperspirant

♦ Botox, which blocks the nerves that stimulate sweat glands

♦ Anticholinergic drugs, which prevent the chemicals that stimulate sweating from acting

♦ Iontophoresis, which is a procedure that delivers low-level electrical currents to temporarily block sweat glands.

Natural Treatment for Sweating

Heart disease and stroke are two of the most serious causes of sweating, but these can be prevented with natural heart treatments. The risk of heart disease and stroke is increased with high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels.

The natural ingredients below have been proven to lower cholesterol and blood pressure to protect your heart.

Niacin: This essential vitamin reduces harmful cholesterol levels to protect your arteries from clogging, which reduces the risk of stroke.
Pine bark extract: This extract contains anti-inflammatory plant compounds that reduce cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and prevent damage from inflammation.
Lion’s mane: This healing mushroom prevents inflammation that can damage blood vessels and cause heart disease.
Berberine bark extract: Another plant extract full of protective compounds that reduce cholesterol and lower blood pressure.

When to See Your Doctor

Sweating is a normal bodily function, and your body releases sweat without your conscious effort. Your body can determine when sweat is needed, but sometimes, illness, medications, diet, or an underlying health issue can disrupt the process. 

If excessive sweating is a problem, lifestyle changes can accommodate the sweating, but you should speak with your doctor. If other symptoms are also present, there could be an underlying condition that needs attention. 

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