Health & Wellbeing

A quick guide to anhidrosis – the inability to sweat

A quick guide to anhidrosis – the inability to sweat
The inability to sweat is a serious condition – it can even be fatal
The inability to sweat is a serious condition – it can even be fatal
View 1 Image
The inability to sweat is a serious condition – it can even be fatal
The inability to sweat is a serious condition – it can even be fatal

With the inability to sweat making the headlines in a certain high-profile news story that won't go away, New Atlas looks at what is known about anhidrosis: the little-known condition wrapped up with the controversy.

What is anhidrosis?

As many readers will have heard recently, if you have anhidrosis, you can't sweat. Strictly speaking, it's the extreme form of hypohidrosis, which is a reduced ability to sweat, but the terms anhidrosis and hypodrosis are often used interchangeably.

Did you say hyperhidrosis?

No, hyperhidrosis is an unusually high amount of sweating. Hypohidrosis is an unusual lack (hyper comes from the Ancient Greek hupér, meaning over; and hypo from the ancient Greek hupó, meaning under).

That's confusing!


Is it serious?

Fairly. Untreated, hypohidrosis can lead to hyperthermia, which basically means overheating, as opposed to hypothermia, which is the opposite. It can also contribute to heat stroke, heat cramps, heat exhaustion and therefore, potentially, death.

Does it affect the whole body?

It can do, or it can affect one or several isolated areas of the body. Other than little or no sweating, other symptoms of anihidrosis include muscle cramps, weakness, dizziness, and, unsurprisingly, feeling hot or flushed.

What causes it?

Lots of things can cause the condition, but broadly speaking, they fall into three categories: external causes, dermatological causes (directly affecting the skin) and neurological causes.

External causes include drugs like morphine and antipsychotic medicines. Dermatological causes might include burns or clogged pores, or possibly genetic conditions which can affect the skin such as Fabry disease. Neurological causes include nerve damage, which could in turn be caused by, say, diabetes or alcoholism. These are just a few examples of many, though.

Can an extreme adrenaline rush cause the condition?

Though this has been suggested in a recent high-profile example in the UK, there's little in the scientific literature to suggest as much. Adrenaline doesn't fit neatly into the three broad sets of causes that are understood to bring anhidrosis about. It seems unlikely that adrenaline (or indeed psychological trauma) could be a cause, and a few high-profile medical experts have gone on record to say as much. Let's not say "impossible," but go with the more than charitable "unrecognized at this time."

Is there a cure?

Anhidrosis is hard to treat. When the underlying cause is known, it tends to be that that's treated which can, in turn, reduce anhidrosis itself. But in many cases the cause isn't treatable, and so the best option is to mitigate the dangerous complications that anhidrosis can cause. As an example, it's a better idea to stay inside than it is to perform vigorous exercise outdoors on a hot sunny day.

But does it just … go away?

The same applies, really. Should the cause go away then so might the symptom, but otherwise, there is little to suggest that anhidrosis can go away by itself. Not impossible perhaps, but … royally unlikely?

You could say that, yes.

George Hanson
My wife had anhidrosis, although we never heard the word before. Living in Scottsdale, AZ, where the temperature exceeds 110 F many days in the summer, and her being dedicated to exercise, she was forced to take precautions. About 3 years ago she decided she was gluten intolerant and began a gluten free lifestyle, at which time she became capable of perspiring - and she is now able to benefit from Arizona's "dry heat." We have verified that gluten consumption correlates with the anhidrosis. Just something others might want to try.
Jessica F
George Hanson - thank you for sharing this! I recently tried this and think that going gluten free may be helping. How long before your wife noticed a difference?