Since she was a child, Barbara has lived with a rare condition called hyperhidrosis. For persons with hyperhidrosis, "the sweat just pours off," explains Dawn Jaroszewski, M.D., a specialist at Mayo Clinic in Arizona and an expert in treating the condition.
Hyperhidrosis can affect almost any part of the body. In Barbara's case, the sweating occurred primarily on her palms, making everyday tasks and social actions like shaking hands nearly impossible to perform.
Because the condition isn't life-threatening, hyperhidrosis is often not taken seriously by others. Yet the effects of the disease can be socially devastating.
To prevent others from noticing her clammy, dripping hands, Barbara often wore shirts with extra-long sleeves that covered her palms and helped soak up the sweat. But that strategy didn't always work. "When I took my driving test, my hands kept slipping off the steering wheel," Barbara recalls. "The instructor asked what was wrong with me. It was so embarrassing."
On another occasion, Barbara had to get fingerprinted for a form. "It was nearly impossible for them to get my prints," she recalls. "The ink smeared every single time."
School and work activities were just as difficult. "I couldn't handle papers without soaking them through," she says.
Desperate for help, Barbara began searching the Internet for hyperhidrosis treatment options, and found extensive information about the disorder on MayoClinic.com. Only a few medical centers in the U.S. treat this rare affliction, and Mayo Clinic is one of the most experienced treatment providers. "I couldn't believe that one of the best treatment centers in the world was right here in Arizona!" Barbara says.
A life-changing cure
The first treatment option for hyperhidrosis is usually over-the-counter and prescription antiperspirants. In cases where pharmaceutical treatments aren't effective, surgery can be performed to interrupt the nerve signals that cause excess sweating. But this can be tricky. Sometimes this surgery stops the condition in one part of the body, only to have it recur elsewhere. For example, sweating may stop on the hands but begin on the torso.
To ensure an effective cure for hyperhidrosis, Mayo Clinic specialists frequently perform a corrective surgical procedure called sympathectomy. During the minimally invasive operation, clips are placed on each end of the nerve causing the problem. "The results are outstanding and immediate," explains Dr. Jaroszewski. "The patient enters surgery sweating and wakes up with dry hands."
Patients who undergo this surgery have a window of approximately 30 days to reverse the procedure before the nerve alteration becomes permanent. "But why would anyone reverse it?" Barbara asks. She underwent corrective surgery in March 2007, and the results were instant and dramatic. "It's changed my life," she says. "After all these years, I finally feel like a normal person."
That's why Barbara now eagerly extends her hand. It's why she handles paperwork with confidence in her human resources job at a local college. And it's why she's decided to pursue a medical career.
"Mayo Clinic has helped me so much," she says, "and I really want to help others. Right now that involves helping people with hyperhidrosis understand their life can change for the better. In the future, maybe I'll be able help people change their lives myself."