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Surgeons help end excessive sweating woes

April 9, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Millions of people suffer from excessive sweating, which can be an embarrassing problem. Now surgeons are helping people with excessive sweating leave their humiliation behind.Fifteen-year-old swimming champ Ali Kerr knows what it's like to be in the spotlight. Winning wasn't a problem, it was what came after that terrified her.

"When I'd shake people's hands it was like all sweaty, and when I got nervous my hands got sweaty," said Ali.

Ali suffered from excessive sweating, or hyperhidrosis. Her mom Cindy had it too and lived through years of embarrassment.

"People always would go, 'Eww, Cindy has sweaty hands,'" said Cindy.

Up to 8 million people in the U.S. have hyperhidrosis. It can impact many body parts including hands, feet, faces and armpits. Dr. Harold Burkhart, a cardiovascular surgeon at the Mayo Clinic, says his patients are mainly teenage girls desperate for help.

"[They've] never had a boyfriend or they won't hold hands, they're very self conscious about that sort of thing," said Dr. Burkhart.

A recent study shows women are twice as likely as men to seek treatment for hyperhidrosis. Surgery used to mean cutting open the chest and a two-week hospital stay. Now doctors make two small incisions under the armpit, cut the nerve that supplies the sweat glands and patients go home the same day.

"It's a quick operation and it really does change their life," said Dr. Burkhart.

Minutes after their surgeries, Ali and Cindy felt a big difference. A small scar is left, but no sweaty palms.

"It was really weird because I've had this my whole life and it was suddenly gone," said Ali.

"I couldn't believe it. I really could not believe it," said Cindy.

There are creams, medications and injections to treat hyperhidrosis, but surgery is the only permanent solution. Doctors say the procedure eliminates excessive sweating more than 90 percent of the time.


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