Sweating is the release of a salty liquid from the body's sweat glands. This process is also called perspiration.
Sweating is an essential function that helps your body stay cool. Sweat is commonly found under the arms, on the feet, and on the palms of the hands.
How much you sweat depends on how many sweat glands you have. A person is born with about two to four million sweat glands. The glands start to become fully active during puberty. Women have more sweat glands then men, but men's glands are more active.
Sweating is controlled by the autonomic nervous system, the part of the nervous system that is not under your control. Because sweating is the body's natural way of regulating temperature, people sweat more when it's hot outside. People also sweat more when they exercise, or in response to situations that make them nervous, angry, embarrassed, or afraid.
Excessive sweating may also be a symptom of menopause
Emotional or stressful situations (anxiety)
Fever and infections
Medications such as thyroid hormone, morphine, drugs to reduce fever, and medicines to treat mental disorders
- Spicy foods (known as "gustatory sweating")
Withdrawal from alcohol or narcotic painkillers
After sweating, you should:
Call your health care provider if
Contact your health care provider if sweating occurs with:
Rapid, pounding heartbeat
Shortness of breath
These symptoms may indicate a problem, such as hyperthyroidism
Also call your health care provider if:
- You sweat a lot or sweating lasts for a long time or can't be explained
- Sweating occurs with or is followed by chest pain
- You also lose weight or usually sweat during sleep
Robertson D. Disorders of the autonomic nervous system. In: Bradley WG, Daroff RB, Fenichel GM, Jankovic J, eds. Neurology in Clinical Practice. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Butterworth Heinemann Elsevier; 2008:chap 81.
Saper CB. Autonomic disorders and their management. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 445.
David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.