Sweaty Palms

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What are sweaty palms?

Sweating is the way the body cools itself, and it happens to everyone. Palmar hyperhidrosis, which is excessive sweating on the palms of the hands, is a condition in which a person’s palms sweat much more than is necessary to cool down, sometimes to the point of dripping. While it’s normal for someone to get sweaty palms occasionally from anxiety in a stressful situation, a fever, or exercise, or as a medication side effect, palmar hyperhidrosis can be a chronic problem with no clear cause at all.

Hyperhidrosis can also affect other parts of the body, such as the soles of the feet (plantar hyperhidrosis), groin and armpits (axillary hyperhidrosis). Plantar hyperhidrosis often occurs alongside palmar hyperhidrosis, but sweaty palms can occur with excessive sweating anywhere on the body.

While sweaty palms can be an embarrassing and frustrating condition, it’s not dangerous in and of itself. However, if sweaty palms are a result of another medical condition, you may need treatment. Be sure to tell your doctor if the problem begins to get worse, if it happens even during the night, or if it begins to affect your quality of life. Your doctor can talk with you about treatment options for sweaty palms.

Sweaty palms that occur with other serious symptoms such as lightheadedness, chest pain, nausea, or difficulty breathing could indicate a heart attack. Seek immediate treatment (call 911) for any combination of these symptoms.

What other symptoms might occur with sweaty palms?

Symptoms of sweaty palms often begin as early as childhood or adolescence, and it is often a chronic problem. This is called primary focal hyperhidrosis, when there’s no underlying cause. Sometimes sweaty palms are a symptom of another health condition or medication side effect, and this is called secondary hyperhidrosis. Each of these types of hyperhidrosis may have their own symptoms.

Symptoms of primary focal hyperhidrosis

People with sweaty palms may experience sweating so extreme that it drips down their hands. This can interfere with gripping objects or result in an embarrassing handshake. Symptoms of primary focal hyperhidrosis include:

  • Discoloration: The skin on the palms may become pale or sometimes pinkish.

  • Maceration: The skin may become exceptionally fragile and easily crack due to cellular damage caused by excessive moisture. 

  • Bilateral: Sweating happens on both sides of the body, symmetrically. 

  • Frequency: Excessive sweating happens at least once a week for six months or longer.

Someone with sweaty palms may also experience excessive sweating on other parts of the body. For example, someone with palmar hyperhidrosis may also have excessive sweating on the bottoms of their feet, called plantar hyperhidrosis. This is very common—palmar and plantar hyperhidrosis occur together in more than half of patients with sweaty palms. Sometimes they may have excessively sweaty armpits, head or groin as well.

Symptoms of secondary hyperhidrosis

In addition to the symptoms of primary focal hyperhidrosis, someone with secondary hyperhidrosis also may experience additional symptoms. These include:

  • Sweating during the night

  • Sudden worsening of sweaty palms

  • Asymmetrical sweating

Serious symptoms that need a doctor’s attention

In some cases, sweaty palms may occur along with more serious symptoms that need to be evaluated by a doctor right away. These serious symptoms include:

What causes sweaty palms?

There are two types of hyperhidrosis: primary focal hyperhidrosis and secondary hyperhidrosis. Palmar hyperhidrosis can fall into either of these categories.

Secondary hyperhidrosis is caused by another health condition or as a side effect of a medication the person is taking. Primary focal hyperhidrosis, on the other hand, is when the excessive sweating is the condition itself—it’s the primary problem.

Primary focal hyperhidrosis causes

When the cause is primary focal hyperhidrosis, there’s typically no medical or health reason for the sweating. Sweaty palms may be hereditary, so if there’s no other explanation for this excessive sweating, it may run in your family.

If sweaty palms aren’t in your family history, there may be no reason at all for the condition. Keep in mind: This condition could run in your family without your knowledge, as people are often hesitant to talk about their symptoms with others.

Secondary hyperhidrosis causes

With secondary hyperhidrosis, a person may have another medical condition that’s resulting in excessive sweating, or the person may be taking a drug that causes sweaty palms as a side effect. Sweaty palms can also be a side effect of opioid withdrawal.

Other causes of sweaty palms include:

  • Diabetes or low blood sugar

  • Disorders of the nervous system

  • Excessive alcohol use

  • Heart or lung disease

  • Hot flashes due to menopause

  • Obesity 

  • Problems with the thyroid 

  • Some kinds of cancer

Serious causes of sweaty palms 

When sweaty palms occur alongside symptoms of lightheadedness, chest pain or nausea, you may be having a heart attack. Someone with these symptoms needs immediate medical attention (call 911).

When should you see a doctor for sweaty palms?

While it may be embarrassing to discuss, it’s important to talk with your doctor if you have excessively sweaty palms—even if you’re having no other symptoms. If you don’t have other symptoms, you can chat with your doctor about the problem at some point; in other situations, you’ll need to get an appointment soon. In some cases, someone needs immediate medical attention.

Make an appointment with your doctor

When sweaty palms are a result of primary focal hyperhidrosis, the condition isn’t dangerous or life-threatening. However, it is important to talk with your doctor about your symptoms, especially if they’re causing stress or anxiety in your daily life. Excessively sweaty palms can affect your quality of life, both socially and emotionally, and it’s not something you just have to deal with forever without help. Your doctor can discuss sweaty palms treatment options with you.

Get prompt medical care 

If your sweating occurs overnight while you sleep, worsens suddenly, or only occurs on one side of your body, you may have secondary hyperhidrosis. This means another condition is causing the excessive sweating. Your doctor may want to evaluate you for certain medical conditions, including diabetes, thyroid problems, or cancer. While these conditions may not be immediately life-threatening, it’s very important to get a diagnosis and treatment as soon as you begin noticing the symptoms.

Call 911

If you’re having symptoms of a heart attack, including sweaty palms, dizziness or lightheadedness, chest pain, difficulty breathing, or nausea, call 911 immediately. A heart attack is a life-threatening medical emergency.

How is the cause of sweaty palms diagnosed?

Most of the time, your doctor will be able to diagnose primary focal hyperhidrosis after discussing your symptoms and medical history with you. In some cases, your doctor may want to do some tests to determine whether you have an underlying medical condition that’s causing sweaty palms.

Your doctor will likely ask many questions during your appointment to help make a diagnosis. These questions may include:

  • What exactly are your symptoms?

  • How long have they been happening?

  • When do your symptoms typically occur?

  • Do you have sweating overnight when you sleep?

  • Is the sweating happening on one hand or both?

  • Is there anything that worsens your symptoms? Relieves your symptoms?

  • Does anyone else in your family have sweaty palms?

Tests for sweaty palms

If your doctor suspects you might have an underlying condition that’s causing sweaty palms, you might undergo testing. Some of these tests might include:

  • Diagnostic tests: Blood, urine or other lab tests can help your doctor determine whether you have an underlying health condition.

  • Sweat tests: A starch-iodine test will show where exactly the excessive sweat is, and a paper test will measure how much sweat your body is producing.

The results of these types of tests can help your doctor diagnose an underlying cause of sweaty palms. In some cases, no cause can be determined, which is common with primary focal hyperhidrosis.

What are the treatments for sweaty palms?

Sweaty palms treatment options will depend on whether the cause is from a medication side effect or another health condition, or if it has no apparent cause.

If you have a health condition causing sweaty palms, your doctor will advise getting that problem under control, which may alleviate the excessive sweating. If one of your prescriptions is causing sweaty palms, it may be possible to switch medications, but talk to your doctor before stopping any prescription drugs.

Even if there’s no underlying medical condition, sweaty palms can still negatively affect a person’s quality of life, in many cases causing stress and anxiety at school, work or social situations. The goal of treatment is to reduce excessive sweating to improve quality of life.

Treatment options for sweaty palms

Several options are available to treat sweaty palms, and some people may need to combine more than one treatment to effectively reduce sweating. Treatments for sweaty palms include:

  • Antiperspirant: Whether by prescription or an over-the-counter variety, an antiperspirant can be used at night and washed off in the morning.

  • Nerve-blocking drugs: These oral medications can prevent certain nerves from communicating and producing extra sweat.

  • Certain antidepressants: Some antidepressants may reduce sweating as well as reduce anxiety, which can make sweating worse.

  • Botox: Botox injected in the hands can block nerves that cause hyperhidrosis. This treatment usually lasts six months to a year and then must be repeated.

  • Iontophoresis: A process in which a special device emits a low-intensity electrical current through mineralized water, which blocks the sweat glands in your hands. This treatment may take several weeks to see results. The current is low enough that it’s not a safety concern.

  • Surgery: A surgeon can perform spinal surgery to block the nerves that cause palmar hyperhidrosis, but this is usually a last-resort treatment.

Many of these treatments come with side effects. It’s important to talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of each treatment and the side effects before deciding which option is right for you. The extent to which the excessive sweating interferes with your daily life will likely play a part in choosing your treatment plan.

What are the potential complications of sweaty palms?

People with sweaty palms due to primary focal hyperhidrosis are typically not in danger of serious complications. Most of the time, embarrassment and anxiety around the condition is the biggest problem, though excessive sweating may increase the risk of skin infections.

People with secondary hyperhidrosis may have an underlying condition that could get worse without treatment. It’s important to talk to a doctor if you’re experiencing sweaty palms along with other symptoms so you can get an accurate diagnosis and treatment. If an underlying condition goes untreated, you could experience complications of that condition.

If your palms suddenly become sweaty and you begin experiencing symptoms of a heart attack, call 911 or go to an emergency room immediately. Without emergency treatment, a heart attack can be fatal.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2021 Sep 17
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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