What are the Most Common Causes of Excessive Underarm Perspiration?

Maggie J. Hall

In seemingly healthy individuals, common causes of excessive underarm perspiration might include certain foods or stressful situation that trigger a neurological malfunction. This condition is medically referred to as axillary hyperhidrosis. Though embarrassing, the condition is generally not harmful. Excessive armpit sweat can also possibly be symptomatic of metabolic or systemic diseases, and treatment depends on the underlying cause.

There are various reasons an individual may sweat heavily under their arms.
There are various reasons an individual may sweat heavily under their arms.

Axillary hyperhidrosis typically occurs when nerves become hyperstimulated and respond inappropriately because of excitation of the sympathetic nervous system. Under these circumstances, the brain triggers the release of cortisol and epinephrine, which initiate sweating. Once triggered, researchers believe a constant flow of these hormones causes individuals to experience excessive sweating that is unrelated to normal thermal regulation. Hyperhidrosis might be confined to the underarm region but may also accompany excessive perspiration from other areas of the body.

Hypoglycemia can cause excessive underarm perspiration.
Hypoglycemia can cause excessive underarm perspiration.

Hot or spicy foods are a common cause of excessive underarm perspiration in persons having this disorder. Often, these types of foods contain capsaicin, which deceives the brain into believing that the body needs to react to the heat sensation produced in the mouth and digestive tract. The brain reacts by stimulating nerves and producing sweat. The response may also occur when people eat or drink foods or beverages that are too hot. Caffeine containing beverages and foods can also elicit a sympathetic reaction and produce excessive sweat in persons suffering from hyperhidrosis.

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During menopause, women often experience excessive underarm perspiration caused by hot flashes.
During menopause, women often experience excessive underarm perspiration caused by hot flashes.

Emotional or mentally stressful situations tend to produce the fight or flight response commonly associated with the sympathetic nervous system. Persons with hyperhidrosis might experience excessive perspiration even in mildly demanding situations. As the level of stress increases, so does the amount of neurological stimulation and the production of excess perspiration.

When not associated with a neurological disorder, excessive underarm perspiration might be due to a metabolic or physical condition. Extreme pain, hypoglycemia and thyroid disorders are all common causes of excessive underarm perspiration. Heart conditions, disease processes occurring in the brain, or systemic infections may also initiate abnormal chemical release and excessive sweating. Possible hormonal changes or deficiencies accompanying menopause frequently produce hot flashes, resulting in excess sweating in the armpits and other areas of the body. Receiving health care for treatable medical conditions may resolve the perspiration problem.

When associated with hyperhidrosis, persons often use over-the-counter antiperspirants to minimize excessive underarm wetness. If commonly sold products prove ineffective, prescription strength formulations containing aluminum chloride hexadrate may help. Physicians can prescribe anticholinergic medications, which produce relaxing effects and may calm the sympathetic nervous system. Botulinum toxin A injections or sympathectomy are other medical alternatives.

Extreme perspiration can be caused by a magnesium deficiency.
Extreme perspiration can be caused by a magnesium deficiency.

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Discussion Comments


@KoiwiGal - I just want to remind people that if the sweating starts suddenly then it's worth checking with a doctor for the cause because it might be a symptom of something. Some people do just have naturally excessive sweating in their underarms and elsewhere, but any sudden change in how your body works is cause for concern, not a time to search for new clothes.


@croydon - If someone has chronic underarm sweating like that, there's no need for everyone to know about it (not that I think it's anything to be ashamed of either). Even if they can't use an antiperspirant to stop it, they can wear clothes that won't show patches of moisture.

It's tough if you've got a dress code at work, because they often require you to wear the kinds of shirts that do show moisture really easily. But if you can get away with wearing something like merino or bamboo fabric, especially in darker colors, it won't matter if you sweat them through, because it won't show very much.

There are some really good sports wear and outdoor shirts in merino that are ideal for someone who sweats a lot. They might be fairly expensive though.


I had a teacher once who always seemed to have huge sweat patches under his arms. I don't know if he ever tried to stop his excessive sweating, but I do know it embarrassed him, which was a shame really. I mean, it didn't smell or anything, so there was no reason to be anxious about something he couldn't control.

Unfortunately, I think sometimes students could be very cruel about it, but he was generally well liked, so it wasn't too bad.

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