If you find yourself sweating a lot during exercise, that's not necessarily a bad thing: It means that your body temperature has risen enough to trigger your natural cooling mechanism. However, excessive amounts of sweat or a sudden change in your sweat response may signal problems.
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Sweating a Lot During Exercise
As the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM) notes, not everybody sweats the same amount. How much you do sweat depends on how many sweat glands you're born with, and how active they are. Men's sweat glands tend to be more active, but both men and women may sweat more in response to exercise, hot weather and certain emotionally charged situations.
Sweating is an important, and usually healthy, part of your body's response to exercise. As explained at Michigan State University Extension, whether you're hot because you're killing it at the gym or kicking back in a sauna, the act of sweating cools your body back down.
Sweating easily during a workout doesn't necessarily mean you're out of shape, either. As noted in a study of 36 subjects, published in the April 2014 issue of PLOS One, trained endurance runners sweated more heavily and sooner during a workout than their sedentary counterparts.
When you sweat normally, all you should do is rehydrate yourself and replenish electrolytes as needed. It's when you find yourself sweating excessively for no apparent reason, dealing with post-workout sweating that doesn't stop, experiencing sudden changes in your sweat response or not sweating at all that you might have a problem.
How Much Is Too Much?
Over-the-top profuse sweating when exercising can signal a variety of health problems, or itself be a result of hyperhidrosis — a medical condition characterized by excessive, unpredictable sweating, as explained by the NLM.
Unfortunately, there's no hard and fast rule for how much sweat is too much. But as noted by the Mayo Clinic, your doctor will use your medical history and symptoms to determine whether you have hyperhidrosis. Your doctor may inquire whether any of your family members have a history of hyperhidrosis and whether anything in particular triggers your sweating, or administer specialized tests to determine where on your body you're sweating and how much.
Your doctor may also administer tests to rule out other conditions that could be causing your excessive sweating. These include overactive thyroid, diabetes, infections, nervous system disorders and even heart attack.
Speaking of heart attacks: The Mayo Clinic recommends seeking immediate medical attention if you experience heavy sweating along with lightheadedness, chest pain or nausea. Nobody wants to entertain the possibility that a heart attack could happen to them, but it's always better to be safe rather than sorry, especially if your body is giving you clear warning signs.
Other warning signs that your heavy sweating requires medical attention, compiled from the Mayo Clinic and NLM, include:
- Weight loss.
- Shortness of breath.
- Sweating so severe it interferes with your life or mood.
- Sudden changes in your body's sweat response.
Read more: Can Caffeine Make You Sweat Uncontrollably?
If you do have hyperhidrosis, you're not alone. As noted in the results of a large national survey, printed in the August 2004 Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, hyperhidrosis affects 2.8 percent of the U.S. population. Possible treatments noted by the NLM include medication, prescription-strength antiperspirants, botulinum toxin, iontophoresis and even underarm surgery.
Is This an Emergency?
- PLOS One: "Long Distance Runners Present Upregulated Sweating Responses Than Sedentary Counterparts"
- Michigan State University Extension: "Is Sweating Good for You?"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Sweating"
- Mayo Clinic: "Hyperhidrosis"
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: "Hyperhidrosis"
- Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology: "US Prevalence of Hyperhidrosis and Impact on Individuals With Axillary Hyperhidrosis: Results From a National Survey"