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Sweating

Definition

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

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

Sweating

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Sweating

Alternative Names

Perspiration

Considerations

How much 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.

Because sweating is the body's natural way of regulating temperature, people sweat more when it's hot outside. People also sweat more when they exercise, or in response to situations that make them nervous, angry, embarrassed, or afraid.

Excessive sweating may also be a symptom of menopause.

See also:

Common Causes

  • Alcohol
  • Caffeine
  • Cancer
  • Certain medicines, including thyroid hormone, morphine, drugs to reduce fevers, and medicines to treat mental disorders
  • Emotional or stressful situations (anxiety)
  • Exercise
  • Fever
  • Infection
  • Low blood sugar
  • Menopause
  • Overactive thyroid gland
  • Spicy foods (known as "gustatory sweating")
  • Warm temperatures
  • Withdrawal from alcohol or narcotic pain killers

Home Care

After sweating, you should:

  • Wash your face and body
  • Change clothes and bed sheets
  • Drink plenty of water to replace lost body fluids
  • Slightly lower room temperature to prevent more sweating

Call your health care provider if

Contact your health care provider if sweating is accompanied by:

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

These symptoms may indicate a problem, such as hyperthyroidism or infection.

Also call your health care provider if:

  • You sweat a lot or sweating lasts for a long time or can't be explained.
  • Sweating occurs with or is followed by chest pain or pressure.
  • Sweating is accompanied by weight loss or most often occurs during sleep.

References

Saper CB. Autonomic disorders and their management. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 445.


Review Date: 5/3/2009
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 David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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