Treating Excessive Sweating: How Sympathectomy Works

Excessive sweating, or hydrohydrosis, is a condition that may occur in the hands, feet, face and arm pits and is caused by a hyperactive sympathetic nervous system. A sympathectomy is a surgical procedure that can inhibit the sympathetic nervous system, regularizing the sweat production.

What Is Sympathectomy?

Sympathectomy is a surgical procedure that involves making an incision on both sides of the chest, cutting the sympathetic nerve, which is located at the level of the second rib, on each side of the body.

The sympathectomy may be video assisted (endoscopic procedure), so that the procedure is more precise and the success of the procedure is guaranteed. In some cases, air is inserted in the chest cavity to help the procedure, and laser beams may also be used to destroy the sympathetic nerves.

The surgery takes up to 90 minutes and may cause pain during and after the procedure; the pain will be managed with pain medication and/or IV fluids.

Another option is to treat the ganglia with percutaneous radiofrequency waves; this technique is mostly used when only one side of the body is affected by excessive sweating.

The Sympathetic Nervous System

The sympathetic nervous system is part of the autonomic nervous system, which is in charge of certain functions such as breathing, sweating and the blood pressure. The autonomic system also includes the parasympathetic system.

The sympathetic system will help the body respond to danger (either through running or fighting) by increasing heart and respiratory rates, along with the blood flow to the muscles. This will also cause sweating.

How Sympathectomy Works

Sympathectomy will get rid of the nerves in the sympathetic nervous system and will also increase the blood flow, which can be beneficial in diseases that cause narrow blood vessels.

The sympathectomy procedure will stop the nerve impulses and the excessive sweating should also stop, as the surgery will cut or get rid of the sympathetic ganglia, which are nerves that gather in the thoracic area and in the vicinity of the lumbar spinal cord.

The patient should also make some lifestyle changes such as removing stress factors, losing weight, reducing or quitting smoking and drinking, and getting plenty of sleep plus a healthy amount of exercise. These will help reduce stress and sweating. The patient will continue to sweat, but at a normal rate, as the procedure will not destroy the patient’s capacity to sweat. Sweating is a healthy body function, and it helps eliminate toxins from the body.

The existing studies on sympathectomy indicate that over 90% of patients that get the surgery will have positive results and the excessive sweating is fully cured. In some cases, the excessive sweating may occur in other parts of the body (i.e. chest area).

Alternative Treatments to Sympathectomy

There are also non surgical alternatives to reduce excessive sweating. Some of these include physical therapy, stress treatment, medication or reducing the triggers of excessive sweating.

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