Excessive sweating in elderly

Question: I’m a healthy 71-year-old woman and I sweat a lot. I was wondering if it’s something I should discuss with my doctor.

Answer: Heavy sweating, or perspiration, is normal if you are exercising, in a hot environment or you are nervous. It also happens during menopause.

Healthy people sweat, but the amount varies widely. Some people inherit heavy sweating, especially on their palms and the soles of their feet. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, excessive sweating affects about 8 million Americans.

Hyperhidrosis or sweating too much can be caused by a health disorder related to your thyroid gland, nervous system or blood sugar.

You should go to a doctor if, suddenly, you begin to sweat much more (or less) than usual. Other symptoms that should prompt a doctor visit are a change in body odor, the onset of night sweats for no obvious reason, and sweating that disrupts your life.

Perspiration is the body’s cooling process. Glands in your skin produce sweat, which is a clear, salty liquid. Most people have several million sweat glands distributed over their bodies. Sweat cools your body as it evaporates. When sweat mixes with bacteria on your skin, it can produce an unpleasant smell. Sweat, itself, is odorless

If heavy sweating and body odor are problems for you, try over-the-counter antiperspirants and deodorants. If these products don’t work for you, your doctor may prescribe aluminum chloride.

In 2004, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Botox (botulinum toxin type A), a drug that erases wrinkles, to treat severe underarm sweating that cannot be managed by topical agents. The Botox is injected into the armpit temporarily paralyzing the nerves in the underarm that stimulate sweat production.

There has been an online rumor that links antiperspirants to breast cancer . The National Cancer Institute, the FDA and the American Cancer Society say that no existing scientific or medical evidence links the use of underarm antiperspirants or deodorants to the development of breast cancer.

Some believe the myth could have been started by women who were told not to wear antiperspirants or deodorants before a mammogram. The instructions were intended to prevent residue from these products showing up in X-rays and being mistaken for an abnormality in the breast.

Here are some tips to deal with sweating and body odor:

  • Don’t eat malodorous foods such as garlic.
  • Cut back on the caffeine, which can stimulate sweating.
  • Natural fabrics, such as cotton, leather and wool let your skin breathe. Wear clothing made of these fabrics to permit perspiration to evaporate.
  • Use foot powders to absorb sweat.
  • Change shoes and socks often.
  • Remove your shoes occasionally during the day to allow your feet to dry.
  • Because stress can produce perspiration, you should try meditation or other relaxation techniques to relieve your tension.
  • Shower or bathe more often to eliminate bacteria.

If you have a question, please write to [email protected]

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Older Age Body Sweating

Elderly patients with overall body sweat

The situation of a gradual onset of unexplained total body sweat and not limited to the hands feet and armpit is common among elderly patients above their 50s. Most of the patients complaining about this are women that because of unknown reasons develop overall body sweating. They typically describe a situation where their head, scalp and the rest of their body parts are soaked wet minutes after they get out of the shower. Many of them describe other illnesses such as

  • Diabetes
  • Obesity and poor diet
  • Multiple medication usage
  • Back pain and or spinal surgeries
  • Arthritic problems
  • Smoking and or excessive alcohol usage

Also those patients describe multiple other ailments for which attempts were made to help them with medications, surgeries, which did not change their overall complaints with the sweating. Basically the situation is likely due to some imbalance between multiple body functions. It is a sign of the overall aging process where the machine of the body does not fire in the right sequence. A definite solution is not yet available and attempts should be made to restore a healthier way of life including.

  • Overall much healthier diet
  • Eliminate multiple medications usage
  • Overall exercise & activity
  • Non-smoking or excessive alcohol usage

Summary

To make the above mentioned clinical situations that were described one should understand that aging brings with it many symptoms that were unknown before. Those symptoms are not typical of focal hyperhidrosis for which a surgical treatment is available and the hallmark of this statement is the fact that all of those manifestations described above appeared around the 50s – 80s. For those patients the only possible approaches will be medications, diet changes and consultations with those physicians who are specialized in geriatric medicine.

Facial and Hair Sweating in the elderly

This is a fairly common complaint among elderly women and men alike. The majority of patients that complain about this issue are women. The prevailing notion is that it is related to hormonal imbalances. The exact definition for hormonal imbalance is still an unclear entity. Women may need hormonal replacement therapy but the best approach is to consult with a good internist or anyone who is an expert in geriatric medicine.

Hopefully this page helps those elderly patients to understand this yet to be solved issue.

Why does my grandfather suffer from hot flushes?

Although we all sweat differing amounts depending on our circumstances, the onset of severe hot flushes that produce heavy perspiration (hyperhidrosis) in an otherwise healthy 84-year-old certainly merits further investigation.

There could be a simple explanation for it, which may be determined from a full medical history and examination, but such a condition can also have some uncommon causes.

Hot flushes generally imply a reddening of the skin, accompanied by a sensation of heat. If your grandfather is indeed experiencing skin reddening as well as heavy sweating then further inquiry is needed. If his GP cannot diagnose the problem, then a referral to a dermatologist may be appropriate.

Do his hot flushes and excessive perspiration occur at other times, or just when he steps from a warm to a colder environment? Excessive sweating can result from anxiety, stress, over-eating and obesity. It could also be a side-effect of medication, or – more seriously – to changes in the pituitary or thyroid glands, an indicator of diabetes, neurological disorders, or occasionally malignancy or rare growths, such as phaechromocytome (tumours in the adrenal gland that cause excess adrenalin).

Fortunately, I do not suspect the latter conditions as your grandfather is otherwise healthy. But I would want to know what his blood pressure is and whether he has faints, dizzy spells, abdominal pains, weight loss, changes in bowel habit or nerve dysfunction, in order to rule out some less common causes.

The drug warfarin thins the blood and is used to prevent strokes, heart attacks and clots (thrombosis), as well as conditions such as gout. It is not known to cause excess sweating. However, I would be interested to know why he is taking it; the condition itself might be contributing to his symptoms.

Excessive sweating can have a significant negative impact on a person’s quality of life, and I share your concern about your grandfather’s independence, and agree that all should be done to help maintain it. There are many effective treatments.

If the hyperhidrosis is localised, then aluminium chloride solution applied to the skin can prevent sweating. Injections of botulinum toxin – commonly known as Botox – are similarly safe and efficacious for dealing with overactive sweat glands, while skin cream containing glycopyrrolate can also controlling sweating. Iontophoresis, a procedure in which an undetectable electric current is passed through the skin to inhibit temporarily the sweat glands, can also be effective.

If all else fails, your grandfather might consider surgery. An endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy would destroy the nerve paths associated with the overactive sweat glands. A drastic solution, perhaps, but I don’t think anyone should feel that they have to cope with this for the rest of their life.

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Symptoms Often Ignored

But a study of 1,073 heart attack patients hospitalized for heart attack found that though many individuals ignored the usual symptoms of heart attack, if sweating occurred, patients were less likely to delay treatment.

“Bells should ring off if a person suddenly starts sweating profusely,” Ryan tells WebMD. “They shouldn’t think they have the flu. If they don’t have a fever, then they should start to think about something else.”

Chicago researchers studied how delays in seeking treatment may be related to 12 common symptoms in heart attack patients. After combining the symptoms in cluster groups, they found that five distinct symptom clusters emerged.

Previous studies on treatment delay examined single symptoms, while this study examined symptom clusters.

“All the symptoms were put in the same pot, like soup, but it tasted different,” she says. “The symptoms just fell out into different groups.”

And while most individuals assume that chest pain signals a heart attack, a full 16% of patients had no indication of chest pain, delaying a necessary trip to the hospital, says Ryan.

Patients with the shortest delays in seeking treatment had the most symptoms and were more likely to have chest and upper extremity pain, indigestion, nausea, shortness of breath, sweating, dizziness, weakness, and fatigue, she explains.

And those with the longest delays — an average of almost 23 hours — had the fewest symptoms.

Another group that delayed treatment an average of 21 hours had symptoms that were easily confused with gastrointestinal tract causes, she notes. This group was more likely to have symptoms such as chest and abdominal pain plus indigestion.

Women are more likely to experience back pain, jaw pain, shortness of breath, and nausea, vomiting, and fatigue, she says.

Excessive Sweating

Q1. My mother-in-law has a strange problem. She is pushing 90, but for many years she has had a condition where she sweats profusely. She sweats so much she has to change her bedding and her clothing many times a day. She’s been to many doctors but they’ve not helped her. Her social life has been badly hampered by this problem. Any idea what it could be and how to fix it?

— Sue, Pennsylvania

Excessive sweating or hyperhidrosis occurs when the body sweats more than is necessary to control its temperature. It is not very common, as less than one percent of people suffer with this condition. While the sweating can occur all over the body, it is most common on the feet, hands, and underarms.

This condition typically starts early in life during adolescence — less than five percent of cases begin in adulthood. Interestingly, it occurs almost 20 times more frequently in people of Japanese descent. While most cases have no clear explanation for the increased sweating, there are a number of conditions that can lead to this problem. They include an overactive thyroid, diabetes, gout, menopause (though this is usually of a limited duration), alcohol, and certain drugs. Treatment is aimed at correcting the underlying problem, if one is identified. If no explanation is uncovered, treatment includes the use of topical agents such as 20 percent aluminum chloride and oral medications that work on the nervous system, which is responsible for the sweating. The bad news is that these medications can have many side effects, particularly in the elderly.

Other approaches include iontophoresis, in which an electrical current is applied over the skin, and most recently, injection of botulinum toxin in the region of the armpit (the toxin works to block the release of a chemical in the body that drives sweat production). A visit with her physician would result in choosing the best approach, taking into account any other medical problems your mother-in-law may have.

Q2. I’m 60 years old and have been dealing with terrible dry mouth for the last year. I’m not taking any new medications and I feel fine otherwise. Is this age-related? What can I do about it? I feel like no matter how much I drink, I can never satisfy my thirst!

— Arlene, Maryland

Given your age and the symptoms of dry mouth that you describe — including the fact that you feel as though you cannot satisfy your thirst even with ample hydration — it is important that you see a doctor who can evaluate the possibility of diabetes, which is associated with dry mouth and unsatisfied thirst. Medical conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and hypertension may also cause dry mouth in some patients. Of course, there are also a variety of other, less serious causes of dry mouth, including breathing from the mouth rather than the nose (especially at night), smoking or chewing tobacco, or excessive consumption of alcohol. In some cases, for reasons not altogether clear, some degree of dryness of the eyes and mouth can occur in older people without any clear explanation. The first step in solving the problem is to see a doctor who can rule out a more serious cause, like diabetes, and then you can work together to determine and treat what’s causing the dry mouth.

Q3. I have an older friend who has been passing out at times, and he often feels weak. When this happens, he seems a little disoriented, his legs give out from underneath him, and he falls or almost falls. How should he deal with this?

It is essential that your friend receives a neurological examination and a cardiovascular evaluation to determine the cause of his fainting spells. British doctors refer to the symptoms you’re describing as “drop attacks” when they’re exhibited by older persons such as your friend. The reasons behind such spontaneous attacks can be different for different people — some being more serious than others — so it’s imperative to determine the cause. A proper diagnosis can lead to effective prevention of these attacks, or, at the very least can help him to prepare for and manage an attack when it does occur.

Learn more in the Everyday Health Senior Health Center.

13 signs your excessive sweating is a sign of a serious medical condition

  • Sweating is the body’s natural response to hot temperatures, physical activity, and even stress. But some people have hyperhidrosis, which causes them to sweat excessively in other situations too.
  • For many people with hyperhidrosis, the condition is manageable and not concerning. For others, it’s a sign of a more serious medical issue, like a heart attack, infection, thyroid problem, or even cancer.
  • If you sweat excessively and aren’t sure why, visit your doctor to rule out underlying medical issues and develop a treatment plan.
  • View INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.

For most people, sweating is a normal and natural way for the body to help regulate its temperature and cool itself down when temps rise. But for some people, sweating is an abnormally constant part of life, soaking shirts and dampening hands no matter the weather or level of activity.

In these cases, excessive sweating is known as hyperhidrosis, which WebMD reports affects 2% to 3% of Americans. For the most part, hyperhidrosis isn’t something to be too concerned about. If you’re not experiencing any secondary side effects (like heat rash or skin infections) and are able to go about your normal activities, it can be little more than a nuisance that requires extra breathable clothing and strong antiperspirants.

But excessive sweating can also indicate an underlying health concern. And sometimes, it can be tricky to know the difference. INSIDER spoke with two physicians about how to know if your sweating is a sign of a bigger problem.

Excessive sweating comes on suddenly and unexpectedly

Sudden, unexpected sweating could be a sign you’re stressed or anxious. This type of sweat is different from the perspiration that results from your body’s attempts to cool you down because it’s caused by a “surge in adrenaline,” or your body’s fight-or-flight response, explained Dr. Caesar Djavaherian, cofounder and chief medical officer at Carbon Health who’s based in Berkeley, California

Unexpected sweating could also be “the first sign of a heart attack or an underlying heart problem,” he added. If you suspect you’re experiencing a heart attack, you’ll want to reach out for emergency help as quickly as possible.

That said, a sudden onset of sweating isn’t always a reason to panic. It “can come with certain situations, such as with warmer temperatures, spicy foods, exercise, or stress, and doesn’t always mean there’s a more significant underlying condition,” said Dr. Marisa Garshick, a dermatologist in New York City and chief medical correspondent for Certain Dri, an over-the-counter antiperspirant. You should address any concerns with your doctor.

You also feel faint, dizzy, or lightheaded

When sweating is accompanied by a feeling of dizziness or lightheadedness, it may signal an underlying health issue like low blood sugar levels, or hypoglycemia, which may be caused by a drop in blood pressure, according to Djavaherian.

While these symptoms on their own might not seem troubling, check in with your doctor to ensure there’s no underlying cause for concern.

The sweating is accompanied by insomnia, flushing, chest pain, seizures, fatigue, or increased thirst and urination

Taking stock of your overall health can help determine if excessive sweating is part of a larger issue. Insomnia plus sweating, for example, can be a sign of hyperthyroidism, Garshick said.

Sweating along with flushing (when your face and chest feel hot and change color) may signal carcinoid syndrome, or when a rare cancerous tumor secretes certain chemicals into your bloodstream, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Excessive sweating paired with chest pain sometimes indicates a serious heart condition, so “it’s important to always to seek immediate medical attention if you are experiencing chest pain,” Garshick said.

Seizures accompanied by sweating, meanwhile, usually means people are experiencing a medication overdose, Djavaherian said. Sweating with fatigue could mean an infection or low blood pressure.

Finally, increased thirst and urination is associated with diabetes and blood glucose levels. “Sometimes, people will sweat if their blood glucose drops, such as an early warning sign of stress or strain,” Djavaherian said.

You’re also experiencing flu-like symptoms, including a fever or cough

Sweating accompanied by a fever may reflect a bacterial or viral infection like malaria or tuberculosis, which is also accompanied by a cough, Garshick said.

“A fever is the result of a change in body temperature — your brain automatically sets your body temperature a little higher to fight the infection present in your body, which leads to feeling cold and generating heat,” Djavaherian said. “This is why it is necessary to break a fever by regulating the body temperature and sweating it out.”

Often, as the fever breaks, Garshick said, people experience an increased amount of sweat.

You’re experiencing other skin issues such as rash or hives

If sweat stays on your skin, you might experience itching or irritation that will go away on its own once you stop sweating or change into clean, dry clothes. But experts say that skin issues like a rash or hives might be indicative of a fungal skin infection or another medical condition.

“There are some skin conditions that can occur in association with sweating, such as cholinergic urticaria, which can cause hives in some people when the body gets hot and sweaty,” Garshick said. “There are also skin rashes that can occur as a result of excessive sweating in hot or moist environments, such as heat rash or prickly heat, also known as miliaria.”

As always, check in with your doctor or dermatologist to help pinpoint the cause of your skin concerns.

Excess sweating can be a side effect of some medications, or a sign that the dosage should be adjusted. Pexels You started a new medication or a change in dosing

Sweating is a surprisingly common side effect of several medications, including:

  • Stimulants like amphetamines and caffeine
  • Some diabetic medications like sulfonylureas
  • Pain medications including opioids
  • Various psychiatric medications
  • Hormonal medications like birth control pills
  • Thyroid medications
  • Oral steroids

Since sweating is an expected side effect of some medications and can signal that the dose may need to be adjusted in others, it’s something to discuss with a doctor, Garshick said.

You’re under a lot of stress or experiencing panic attacks

Lots of people sweat in stressful situations, like before public speaking. But if sweating is accompanied by other symptoms of panic or anxiety, you’ll want to check in with a doctor or therapist, who can help correctly diagnose any underlying mental health concerns.

“Intense emotion and stress can bring out sweating in anyone,” Garshick said. “If you experience panic attacks or increased levels of stress related to a persistent and excessive worry about everyday situations, this can mean that you are also experiencing anxiety.”

Anxiety-related sweating can be a vicious, self-perpetuating cycle in which the anticipation of sweating actually causes you to sweat. The good news is there are plenty of medication-based and therapeutic treatments to help ease these worries. Seeing a professional may help both manage the anxiety and the sweat.

Read more: How to overcome a panic attack, according to a psychologist

You’re withdrawn socially or you feel anxious in everyday situations

If you find that you’re fearful of or avoiding certain situations due to the possibility of sweating, discuss it with a trusted doctor or therapist, who can help you manage these feelings and symptoms.

“It is known that excessive sweating can have an impact on quality of life, impacting people’s relationships, work, and daily life, and this can occur no matter what the reason behind the sweating is,” Garshick said. A 2019 study even showed that people who experience primary hyperhidrosis, or excessive sweating without a cause, have higher rates of anxiety, depression, and attention deficit disorder than the general population.

You’re also experiencing sudden weight loss

If you’re rapidly losing weight and sweating excessively, you may have a thyroid condition like hyperthyroidism. Infections including tuberculosis and mononucleosis, as well as certain types of cancers, can lead to these symptoms too, Garshick said.

“If you’re experiencing sudden weight loss and sweating, it can mean many different things and is important to see a board-certified physician,” she said.

You’re sweating all over your body instead of in just one area, like the armpits or face

All-over body sweating can occur in various forms of secondary hyperhidrosis, or sweating that is caused by or associated with another disorder or medication. (Primary hyperhidrosis, meanwhile, tends to refer to excessive sweating that is in specific places like the armpits, face, or palms.)

Still, most of the time, generalized sweating is a normal reaction to heat, stress, or exercise, Djavaherian said. If you’re unsure whether your experience is normal, checking with your doctor is the best course of action.

Read more: Why your dress shirt yellows when you sweat — and how to fix it

You’re sweating only at night

Most people experience night sweats when it’s hot outside or the temperature in their bedroom is too high. But if you’re keeping the temperature in your room cool, using breathable fabrics and bedding, and still sweating excessively at night, you might have a medical concern at hand.

“Night sweats can mean an infection such as tuberculosis or the flu, or it can certain types of cancer such as lymphoma,” Garshick said. “It can also be related to hormonal changes such as menopause or due to a medication.” Substance abuse and withdrawal can also lead to night sweats, she added.

Sweating only occurs on one side of the body

If you notice sweating only on one side of your body, you might want to check in with your doctor. Uneven sweating “can indicate a rare nervous system disorder called Harlequin syndrome, Garshick said. It could also indicate a brain tumor, abscess, or stroke, she added.

Lung cancer and Horner’s syndrome, an issue with a nerve pathway, can also be tied to sweating on one side of the body, Djavaherian said.

Though sometimes embarrassing, for most people, sweating is a normal part of being human. DWaschnig/

If you and your doctor have ruled out all potential underlying medical conditions and other causes (like eating spicy foods or working out), you might simply have overactive sweat glands.

“Some people have overactive sweat glands, so even the smallest stimulation will cause them to sweat,” said Djavaherian, adding that this isn’t necessarily “a sign of a bigger problem.”

It also can be quite manageable with treatments like antiperspirants. “If that’s not enough,” Garshick said, “you can speak with a board-certified dermatologist regarding other treatment options including prescription antiperspirants, oral medications, topical wipes, Botox injections, and more.”

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