How to diagnose your health issues due to abnormal sweating

Traditional Chinese Medicine diagnosis pays attention to the body’s sweating (perspiration), and whether it is considered normal or abnormal.

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We take notice of the amount of sweating, the location, time it occurs, colour and odour. We believe through looking at abnormal sweating we can determine dysfunction of the internal organs. In the clinic many people come to us to find and treat the cause of their abnormal sweating.

1. What is normal sweating?

Normal sweating can occur from drinking certain amounts of hot water, during and after exercise, during physical labour, in hot or humid weather conditions, and when the person is under stress. Certain medications can also cause the body to sweat.

All of these conditions are self-limited. When the cause of sweating is reduced or stopped, the sweating disappears.

Generally the body needs to replace fluids by drinking certain amounts of water to bring it back to balance. A certain amount of sweating can help the body clear toxins through the skin, and also helps with the functioning of the pores. We encourage the body to sweat under normal conditions, as this is part of the normal function.

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2. What is abnormal sweating?

(i) Excessive sweating during general activities

Many people have this experience, when they are only performing general day to day activities, and their body sweats excessively. In Chinese Medicine this indicates that the Lung and Spleen Qi are deficient or weak. Generally the body will also experience the following symptoms: pale complexion, lack of energy, shortness of breath, overweight, puffiness and heaviness of the body, sluggish bowel movement, and dizziness due to posture changes (standing up suddenly).

(ii) Sweating while sleeping

This type of abnormal sweating at night is very common. The body experiences sweating while sleeping, and is wet upon waking up. In Chinese Medicine this is due to dysfunction of the Kidneys, and associated with the Kidney Yin being weak. Generally the body will also experience the following symptoms: hot flushes, thirst, constipation, dry skin, poor memory, tinnitus, lower back pain and/or weakness, decreased libido, sexual dysfunction (impotence in men), and for women the period cycle is shortened, and early menopause, or severe menopausal symptoms may occur.

(iii) Sweating on the palms and soles of the feet

In Chinese Medicine this indicates that the body’s Spleen Yang or Qi is deficient or weak. Generally the body will also experience the following symptoms: Cold hands and feet, bloating and fullness especially after eating, lethargy, heaviness or puffiness of the arms and legs, sluggish or loose bowel movements and puffiness around the eyelids (which is especially worse in the morning).

I remember a few years ago I had a client who had excessive sweating on her palms, and I could even see drops of sweat. Her Spleen Yang was very weak. After a few sessions of treatment the sweating totally stopped.

(iv) Sweating around the chest area

In Chinese Medicine this type of sweating usually indicates a Heart disorder. It is associated with Heart Qi and Heart Yin deficiency or weakness. Generally the body will also experience the following symptoms: heart palpitations, tightness of the chest, shortness of breath, and palms and/or soles may feel warmer than normal.

(v) Sweating on one side or part of the body

In Chinese Medicine this condition is usually associated with blockage in certain channels, which affects the flow of Qi and Blood. Generally the body will also experience the following symptoms: lack of energy, pain or muscle weakness in the area.

Caution needs to be used with this condition, as it may indicate early signs of a stroke.

(vi) Sweating on the nose

In Chinese Medicine this indicates a lot of heat and accumulation of toxins in the Large Intestine or Lung. Generally the body will also experience the following symptoms: red face, feeling of heat in the body, constipation or sluggish bowel movements, strong smelling stools, passing wind with strong smell, bloating OR phlegm and chronic cough.

(vii) Sweating on the head

In Chinese Medicine this is usually associated with the body containing a lot of Damp and Heat. Generally the body will also experience the following symptoms: heaviness in the arms and legs, sluggish and sticky stools, bloating, feeling of heaviness in the head, and the tongue coating is very greasy and yellow.

(viii) Mild sweating all over the body

In Chinese Medicine this indicates an attack due to external environmental factors such as heat and wind. Generally the body will also experience the following symptoms: a feeling of mild heat in the body, sore throat, headache, and sneezing. Sometimes this may be a common cold or flu.

(ix) Heavy sweating under the arms

If the sweating occurs without a strong smell, in Chinese Medicine this condition is usually due to Heart channel stagnation or Heat in the Heart. Generally the body will also experience the following symptoms: feels easily stressed, heart palpitations and lots of dreams.

If the sweating occurs with a strong smell this may be due to the glands being overactive. Chinese Medicine considers this to be Damp Heat blocking the channel.

(x) Sudden excessive sweating all over the body (Fainting)

In Chinese Medicine this condition is due to Stomach and Kidney Qi deficiency or weakness. This is usually associated with low blood glucose (sugar) levels in the body, sudden strong emotional issues, overwork/doing too much, over-hungry and stressful situations. Generally the body will also experience the following symptoms: pale complexion, dizziness, heart palpitations, lack of energy, cold hands and feet and shaking or tremors. Blood pressure is usually on the lower side. In medical terms this condition is also known as fainting.

Suggestions on how to deal with fainting:

a) Lie the person down in a comfortable position

b) Drink some warm water or eat a small amount of something sweet eg. biscuits, lollies or chocolate

c) Usually the body will recover in around 15 minutes

d) Seek medical intervention if the person does not recover in a reasonable amount of time, or is getting worse

(xi) Sudden excessive sweating all over the body (Summer Stroke)

In Chinese Medicine this is considered a Summer-Heat attack. This type of perspiration usually occurs in hot and humid weather, and the body perspires excessively with a red face, hot body, tightness of the chest, shortness of breath, thirst and dizziness.

Suggestions on how to deal with summer stroke:

a) Move the person to a cool or shaded area

b) Lie the person down in a comfortable position and loosen tight clothing

c) Slowly drink some cold water, and place a cold compress on the forehead

d) Usually the body will recover in around 20 minutes

e) Seek medical intervention if the person does not recover in a reasonable amount of time, or is getting worse

3. What can you do if you have chronic abnormal sweating?

(i) Seek medical attention and have a general health check

(ii) Visit an experienced traditional Chinese medicine practitioner. You will be diagnosed by traditional methods such as pulse and tongue diagnosis, to determine the cause of your condition, and then treatment and advice will be given to balance your body.

Note: When we use the term “Qi” we are referring to the energy of the organs.

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