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Sweating

Definition

Sweating is the release of liquid from the body's sweat glands. This liquid contains salt. This process is also called perspiration.

Sweating helps your body stay cool. Sweat is commonly found under the arms, on the feet, and on the palms of the hands.

Sweating

Watch this video about:
Sweating

Alternative Names

Perspiration

Considerations

The amount you sweat depends on how many sweat glands you have.

A person is born with about two to four million sweat glands. The glands start to become fully active during puberty. Women have more sweat glands then men, but men's glands are more active.

Sweating is controlled by the autonomic nervous system. This is the part of the nervous system that is not under your control. Sweating is the body's natural way of regulating temperature.

Things that can make you sweat more include:

  • Hot weather
  • Exercise
  • Situations that make you nervous, angry, embarrassed, or afraid

Heavy sweating may also be a symptom of menopause.

Causes

  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Cancer
  • Complex regional pain syndrome
  • Emotional or stressful situations (anxiety)
  • Essential hyperhidrosis
  • Exercise
  • Fever
  • Infection
  • Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
  • Medications such as thyroid hormone, morphine, drugs to reduce fever, and medicines to treat mental disorders
  • Menopause
  • Spicy foods (known as "gustatory sweating")
  • Warm temperatures
  • Withdrawal from alcohol or narcotic painkillers

Home Care

After sweating a lot, you should:

  • Drink plenty of fluids (water or better fluids containing electrolytes) to replace sweat
  • Lower room temperature a little bit to prevent more sweating
  • Wash your face and body if the salt from sweat has dried on your skin

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Contact your health care provider if sweating occurs with:

  • Chest pain
  • Fever
  • Rapid, pounding heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weight loss

These symptoms may indicate a problem, such as overactive thyroid or an infection.

Also call your health care provider if:

  • You sweat a lot or sweating lasts for a long time or cannot be explained.
  • Sweating occurs with or is followed by chest pain or pressure.
  • You lose weight from sweating or often sweat during sleep.

References

Chelimsky T, Robertson D, Chelimsky G. Disorders of the autonomic nervous system. In: Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, eds. Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Butterworth-Heinemann Elsevier; 2012:chap 77.

Cheshire WB. Autonomic disorders and their management. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 427.


Review Date: 4/24/2013
Reviewed By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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