Sweating is a fact of life: Everyone experiences it to some degree when exercising or coping with extreme heat. But for a small group of people, sweating is as constant as breathing—and it can cause serious disruptions to everyday life.
Mark Chapman, 26, of Cincinnati, had dealt with extreme sweating, a medical condition known as hyperhidrosis, his whole life. It wasn’t until he entered the professional world that he reached his breaking point and decided something had to be done.
“One day, it dawned on me that I was intentionally arriving a few minutes late to meetings to avoid shaking hands,” says Chapman, who now works as an engineer designing sewer systems for the Metropolitan Sewer District of Greater Cincinnati. “I always tried not to let sweating affect my participation in day-to-day activities, but in my job that was virtually impossible.”
He did some research and discovered that a UC team offered treatment for the rare condition, which the International Hyperhidrosis Society estimates affects just under 3 percent of Americans.
The procedure—known as endoscopic transthoracic sympathectomy (ETS)—is only appropriate for a select group of hyperhidrosis patients and should be a last option. It involves making small incisions under each arm and inserting specialized tools to clip the nerve that controls hand sweating.
After the nerve is clipped, excessive sweating is almost immediately eliminated and the patient typically goes home the same day.
Michael Reed, MD, a thoracic surgeon with UC Physicians, performed Chapman’s ETS procedure at University Hospital last fall.
“It was pretty incredible. When I woke up from surgery, 100 percent of my hand sweating was gone,” recalls Chapman. “I still experience sweating on my feet and under the arms, but that is far more manageable and less impactful on my daily activities.”
Reed says there are numerous factors for determining if a patient is a good candidate for ETS, including the patient’s personal motivation for having surgery, pursuit of other non-invasive treatment options and understanding and accepting the potential side effects.
“Patients need to do this for themselves, not a spouse, girlfriend or boyfriend,” says Reed, who is also an assistant professor of surgery at the UC College of Medicine. “Surgery is the most extreme treatment for hyperhidrosis, so it is only an option for severe cases where other treatment options have failed.”
Reed says it is very common for patients who have the ETS procedure to experience more sweating in other areas of the body, primarily the trunk or groin.
For Chapman, that was a non-factor in his decision to have surgery: “Hyperhidrosis was defining my lifestyle. I couldn’t tolerate not being myself anymore. I just wanted the hand sweat to decrease,” he explains.
Now when a friendly handshake might be expected, Chapman doesn’t avoid the situation—in fact, he enjoys meeting new people.
“Surgery took away that apprehension. I am a more confident, productive person now,” says Chapman.
For more information on hyperhidrosis, visit netwellness.org, a collaborative health Web site staffed by Ohio physicians, nurses and allied health professionals. To schedule an appointment with Reed or his colleague Sandra Starnes, MD, call (513) 475-8787.