Unusual sweat could be an indicator that something is wrong. Credit: ThinkStock
I sometimes arrive at work drenched in perspiration. How do I know if I sweat too much?
Perspiration, or sweat, is the body’s way of cooling itself by evaporation of a slightly salty, water-based fluid secreted from glands in the skin. The amount of perspiration depends on how many sweat glands a person has; women have more than men, but men’s sweat glands are more active. Sweat glands are located in the palms of the hands and feet, as well as in higher concentrations in the armpits and groin.
Sweating is usually a response to higher ambient temperatures. When it is hot outside, you sweat more! Increased humidity also makes it feel as if you are sweating more — when there is more moisture in the air, there is less evaporation from the skin.
Sweating is controlled by the autonomic nervous system as an involuntary response to the environment or other factors, such as diet (caffeine, spicy foods, alcohol), anxiety and stress, pain, low blood sugar, hormonal fluctuations and fever from an infection. Emotional stress often causes sweating that is isolated to the palms, feet, armpits and groin, whereas sweating for cooling purposes occurs all over the body.
The fluid secreted by sweat glands is largely water with a low concentration of dissolved electrolytes, minerals and fatty acids. On a particularly hot day or in response to vigorous exercise, the body can lose up to 2 liters of fluid per hour, so it is essential to drink water or an electrolyte-rich sports drinks to avoid dehydration.
Excessive sweating, known as hyperhidrosis, may be caused by a number of medical conditions, including nervous system disorders, infections, hormonal imbalances, medication side effects and anxiety. Though there's no baseline for how much sweat is too much, there could be a concern if you're sweating for no apparent reason. If you suspect that you sweat more than is appropriate due to weather or exercise, or at inappropriate times, then a physician can conduct a purposeful history and physical exam to determine if there is a problem.