The ‘sweating sickness’: medical conditions that cause sweating

‘Sweating sickness’ was an epidemic that initially effected people in England then spread to Europe during the late 15th century and early 16th century. The onset of symptoms was sudden and often resulted in death within hours. It was thought that the condition was caused by a virus called Hantavirus. The last outbreak was recorded in the mid-16th century.

Excessive sweating, or hyperhidrosis, can be caused by underlying medical conditions (secondary hyperhidrosis). Although the medical conditions are not as dramatic as the ‘sweating sickness’, they are important to diagnose by a physician since many are treatable and others can cause other medical problems.

Hyperhidrosis is more likely to be caused by an underlying medical condition if it is more generalised (in many areas not in a focal area e.g. underarms, hands and feet or face), occurs later in life (not present during the teenage years or early twenties), and if it occurs at night.

Other medical conditions that cause sweating

The reason why medical conditions cause sweating is still largely unknown. However it is thought that biological factors that are released into the bloodstream might influence the region of the brain that controls the temperature, the hypothalamus. They may work to reduce the temperature set point.

Acute and chronic infections may cause sweating. Infections such as tuberculosis, endocarditis (infection of a heart valve) or osteomyelitis (bone infection) can cause sweating.

A low blood sugar level (hypoglycaemia) often caused by diabetes medications or the diabetes condition itself can cause sweating.

Some prescription medications e.g. antidepressants and blood pressure medications can contribute to sweating. So when you come in for an assessment with one of our physicians ensure you bring in all your medications.

Hormone imbalances and disorders may also result in sweating. Hyperthyroidism is one cause since it increases metabolic activity and results in increased heat production and sweating. For the same reason an over functioning pituitary gland can also result in increased sweating. A pheochromocytoma results in excessive sweating, increased heart rate and headaches. These conditions can all be investigated through conducting blood tests.

Rarely cancer, e.g. lymphoma can result in sweating. If you have recent weight loss and associated fevers your physician will exclude this through investigations.

Another rare cause for excessive sweating is neurological conditions e.g. stroke or a focal neuropathy. During your assessment with a doctor they should conduct a neurological assessment to exclude this.

Those who suffer from psychological disorders like depression and anxiety may be more susceptible to having sweating. In addition many of the medications for depression and anxiety also contribute to the hyperhidrosis/night sweats.

For women the “hot flushes” that commonly accompany menopause can cause hyperhidrosis. This occurs because of a change in a woman’s hormones during menopause and peri-menopause. Other causes of sweating in women are variations in hormone levels that occur before their period commences, with oral contraception pills or during pregnancy.

Still sweating? Get in touch!

If you have tried using a clinical strength anti-perspirant and are still suffering sweat problems then we can help. Contact us now to book an appointment for treatment at one of our clinics (or if you have any questions) using the form on the right-hand side of this page.

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