What Is Generalized Hyperhidrosis?

A wide array of health issues and medicines can cause this type of excessive sweating.

Are you sweating too much? Sometimes excessive sweating is tied to an underlying medical condition or a drug you're taking. In medicine, it's known as generalized hyperhidrosis or secondary hyperhidrosis.

But don't confuse excessive sweating with primary focal hyperhidrosis, one of the most common types of hyperhidrosis. Primary focal hyperhidrosis begins early in life and isn't caused by another medical condition. That type of hyperhidrosis typically affects the armpits, hands, feet, and head.

So, if you're sweating a lot, how can you tell if it's generalized hyperhidrosis—and what can you do about it? According to dermatologists, here's what you need to know about generalized hyperhidrosis.

generalized hyperhidrosis , Water drops on woman skin, close up of wet human skin texture
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What Is Generalized Hyperhidrosis?

Typically affecting adults, generalized hyperhidrosis often involves excessive sweating across the entire body rather than a specific part.

Some evidence suggests that people with hyperhidrosis have an overactive sympathetic nervous system, which activates your flight-or-fight response. That overactivity causes the body to sweat more than necessary.

Generalized hyperhidrosis is also known as secondary hyperhidrosis. The condition is usually "secondary" to an underlying health condition that triggers excessive sweating.

In the United States, about 5% of people have hyperhidrosis. But most of those people have primary focal hyperhidrosis, according to one article published in 2016 in the Archives of Dermatological Research.

Generalized Hyperhidrosis Symptoms

In addition to excessive sweating, signs and symptoms of generalized hyperhidrosis include:

  • Sweating on large portions of the body rather than one specific area, like the hands or feet
  • Sweating for no apparent reason
  • Sweating while sleeping (whereas, with primary focal hyperhidrosis, you stop sweating when you're sleeping)

Some people may feel embarrassed about excessively sweating, which can lead to adverse mental health effects. Generalized hyperhidrosis can also lead to skin infections.

Causes of Generalized Hyperhidrosis

There isn't one single cause of generalized hyperhidrosis. Typically, profuse sweating stems from an underlying medical issue or is a side effect of medication.

Medical Conditions

Many health conditions can cause excessive sweating in some people. Per the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD), some of those conditions include:

  • Diabetes
  • Frostbite
  • Gout
  • Injury
  • Menopause
  • Obesity
  • Overactive thyroid 
  • Tumor

Many illnesses and injuries can cause excessive sweating. However, for most of those health conditions, only certain people will develop generalized hyperhidrosis.


Many over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications can cause generalized hyperhidrosis. Some of the most common culprits include:

  • Tricyclic antidepressants, including Norpramin (desipramine), Pamelor (nortriptyline), and Vivactil (protriptyline)
  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRI) antidepressants, such as Prozac (fluoxetine) and Effexor (venlafaxine)
  • Pilocarpine, prescribed for dry mouth
  • Zinc supplements, such as Cold-Eeze
  • Insulin

Those medications may increase the release of acetylcholine, a neurotransmitter that stimulates sweating.

How Is Generalized Hyperhidrosis Diagnosed?

If you are experiencing excessive sweating, a healthcare provider may want to determine if an underlying condition or medication is causing the sweating.

A healthcare provider will likely review your medical history and conduct a physical exam. Additionally, they may ask you questions about the circumstances surrounding your sweating, including:

  • The body parts that sweat
  • The time of day you sweat
  • What triggers your sweating
  • If you're experiencing other symptoms
  • Any possible drugs or supplements you're taking, including OTC medications and supplements

If a healthcare provider suspects that your sweating is secondary, they may order blood tests or imaging tests to rule out potential causes.

How To Treat Generalized Hyperhidrosis

If you have generalized hyperhidrosis, your treatment may target any underlying health conditions, medications, or supplements, Dee Anna Glaser, MD, a dermatologist and founding board member of the International Hyperhidrosis Society (IHHS), told Health.

Of course, controlling sweating caused by an underlying medical condition is not always possible. So, there are specific treatments for hyperhidrosis, which include the following.


Antiperspirants—particularly containing 10% to 20% aluminum chloride hexahydrate—are often one of the first courses of action. Antiperspirants help to turn off sweat ducts. 

A healthcare provider may recommend buying an antiperspirant over the counter. They may also prescribe a stronger solution depending on the severity of your sweating.

Remember that these products can cause skin irritation, so use them as the label directs. And notify a healthcare provider if you notice any skin changes.

Prescription Medicines 

To control sweating, a healthcare provider may prescribe oral medications, such as an anticholinergic drug or beta blocker. However, those medications have side effects and may not be the best long-term solution for generalized hyperhidrosis.

Prescription Cloth Wipe

Generally, you can use prescription cloth wipes once per day under the arms. But those wipes may also have side effects, such as dry mouth or skin irritation.

Living With Generalized Hyperhidrosis

It may be challenging to eliminate sweating unless the root cause (health condition, medication, or supplement) resolves. But there are some things you can do to reduce sweating. For example, wearing an antiperspirant instead of simply deodorant may help. Deodorant masks body odor, but it won't reduce sweating. 

Additionally, other steps you can take to reduce sweating include the following:

  • Keep a journal to determine when and where you're sweating to look for patterns and possible triggers.
  • Avoid triggers that may worsen your sweating. Triggers may include heat, alcohol, and certain foods, like hot sauce, curry, and cumin.
  • For sweaty feet, wear sandals if you can or shoes made from natural materials that allow air to circulate.
  • Wear cotton and other natural fibers.

Bathing daily and washing your clothes can help prevent odor. Also, relaxation techniques can help reduce stress, which might contribute to sweating. You can also buy pads to put under your arms and prevent sweat stains.

A Quick Review

Generalized hyperhidrosis causes the entire or large areas of the body to sweat excessively. The condition is also known as secondary hyperhidrosis because it usually occurs secondary to a health condition. Certain medications and supplements can also cause generalized hyperhidrosis.

Treating the condition may be difficult, but some techniques may provide relief. Keeping a journal of what triggers your sweating, avoiding those triggers, wearing sandals, or opting for cotton and natural fiber clothing may help. 

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