Many people, especially those who sweat frequently, may wish never to sweat again. Anhidrosis causes a partial or complete inability to sweat. Though this may seem ideal, it can be a serious condition. Sweating is an essential function that helps regulate body temperature. Without sweat, symptoms of heat stroke can develop. A person can be born with anhidrosis or develop it later in life.
The primary symptom of anhidrosis is a lack of sweating. A person can experience anhidrosis over their entire body, or it can affect small patches of skin. If a person only experiences anhidrosis in a single area, they may not realize they have the condition. Anhidrosis that affects the entire body may result in flushed or warm feelings even in moderate temperatures and can cause muscle cramps and weakness.
Because sweating is necessary for the body to regulate temperature properly, it can often lead to heat-related issues such as flushing or blotchy, red areas on the skin. Someone with anhidrosis can develop symptoms of heat cramps, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke. Heat cramps include muscle pain and possible spasms. Symptoms such as weakness and nausea can develop with heat exhaustion. Heat stroke occurs when the body reaches or exceeds a temperature of 103 degrees Fahrenheit. The skin becomes hot to the touch and is typically dry. Without treatment, heat stroke can cause loss of consciousness and may eventually lead to death.
There are many possible causes of anhidrosis. Some individuals are born with the condition. New studies show this may be due to the mutation of a single gene. The ITPR2 gene controls the underlying process that promotes the release of calcium. This connection implies that the human body requires calcium release for sweat production. People who are not born with the condition can acquire anhidrosis from a variety of outside influences and diseases.
There is more information available on acquired anhidrosis than the inheritable form. However, physicians still do not know every possible condition responsible for anhidrosis, though they can theorize as to possible causes.
Certain medications, particularly antipsychotic drugs, can interfere with sweat gland function. Antipsychotic medications contain antimuscarinic anticholinergic agents to help control some of their side effects. These agents block certain neurotransmitters in the central and peripheral nervous system, and preventing sweating is a side effect. Some antidepressant medications also have anticholinergic effects, though most medications in this field no longer use anticholinergics. In addition, any medication with calcium channel blockers can also cause anhidrosis.
Though anhidrosis is already a rare condition, one of its causes is even more rare. Some people are born with congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis or CIPA. Normally, the symptoms of this condition appear at birth or during infancy. CIPA prevents a person from feeling pain and temperature. Anhidrosis is a natural side effect of the condition. Because people with CIPA cannot feel pain and don’t sweat, they may develop extremely high-temperature fevers and seizures that result from high body temperature.
To diagnose anhidrosis, physicians can use a variety of tests. The Minor test is a qualitative procedure that uses iodine and starch to identify areas with sweat. When the iodinated starch combines with sweat, there is a dramatic color change. To test a person’s reaction to temperature, physicians may place them in a hot box or use a thermal blanket. Some doctors rely on exercise instead. If the sweat visualizer does not change color during any of these events, it is likely that the person has anhidrosis.
If medical experts suspect anhidrosis is the result of a problem in the brain or spinal cord, they may use magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to scan the areas. It is also possible that a dermatological issue is responsible. To determine this, doctors may remove a small bit of skin for a biopsy. The results of the biopsy will reveal sweat gland destruction, necrosis, or fibrosis, as well as any other dermatological problems.
Anhidrosis that affects only a single area or select patches of skin generally does not require treatment. If the affected areas are large or if the condition affects the entire body, anhidrosis can be life-threatening. In these instances, treatment will vary to suit the cause. For example, if a person has acquired anhidrosis because of medication side effects, doctors will find alternatives to those drugs. If a person is born with anhidrosis, they may need to make lifestyle adjustments to ensure the condition doesn’t threaten their life.
It can be challenging to manage anhidrosis, but being aware of the condition is the first step towards safely living with the condition. Individuals with anhidrosis should be cognizant of the weather. Anhidrosis poses the largest risk on hot days. On these days, those with the condition should prepare with light, breathable clothes and avoid outdoor activities. If a person with anhidrosis wishes to continue living an active lifestyle, they should take frequent breaks during any physical activity and limit how long they perform these activities.
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