Sweating is a normal bodily reaction that helps a person cool down. When a person sweats, air wicks moisture away from the skin, drawing heat away from the body.
It is normal for a person to sweat when exercising, walking around on a hot day, or spending time in a warm environment. However, unexplained excessive sweating can sometimes indicate an underlying medical condition or a reaction to a medication.
In this article, we outline some of the possible causes of a sweaty back, noting some of the symptoms that may accompany the sweating. We also list some treatment options for excessive sweating and explain when to see a doctor.
Below are some of the possible causes of a sweaty back.
Exercise raises a person’s body temperature, causing them to sweat. Sweating is a natural bodily reaction that draws heat away from the skin. The more vigorous or intense the exercise, the more a person will sweat.
Experiencing a sweaty back during exercise is normal and not generally a cause for concern.
A person may find that they produce extra sweat when they are nervous or anxious.
Stress triggers many different areas of the body, including the glands that control sweating. Although the sweating often affects the groin or armpits, a person may find that their back also becomes excessively sweaty when they are stressed.
3. Primary hyperhidrosis
Primary hyperhidrosis can also affect specific body parts, such as the back.
In people with this condition, sweating is bilateral, meaning that it will affect both sides of the body, such as both hands or both the left and right side of the back.
4. Secondary generalized hyperhidrosis
Secondary generalized hyperhidrosis (SGH) is hyperhidrosis that occurs as a symptom of an underlying medical condition or as a side effect of a medication.
A person who has SGH will experience sweating in more than one area of the body, which may sometimes include the back.
Some common medical causes of SGH include:
- alcohol use disorder
- neurological syndromes
- injury to the spinal cord
- overactive thyroid
- certain cancers
According to the National Institute on Aging, heavy sweating often follows the occurrence of hot flashes.
A person who sweats excessively may experience additional symptoms, depending on the underlying cause of their sweating.
Symptoms of anxiety-induced sweating
- heart palpitations
- shortness of breath
- trembling or shaking
- feelings of doom
- a feeling of being out of control
Symptoms of menopause-induced sweating
If menopause is the cause of excessive sweating on the back, a person may also experience the following symptoms:
- hot flashes
- increased skin sensitivity
- changes in vaginal or bladder health
- changes to the menstrual cycle
- mood changes
Symptoms of hyperhidrosis
If primary hyperhidrosis is responsible for a sweaty back, a person may not have any other physical symptoms. However, the International Hyperhidrosis Society (IHS) note that the condition may cause:
- social anxiety
- interference with daily activities
If SGH is the cause of a sweaty back, a person may also experience symptoms of the underlying condition causing the sweating or side effects of the medication responsible.
The treatment for a sweaty back depends on the underlying cause of the sweating.
If the sweating is due to an underlying medical condition, a person will need to treat the condition to control the sweating.
If medication is the cause, a doctor may recommend lowering the dosage or switching to an alternative medication. However, a person should not stop taking a medication unless their doctor says that it is safe for them to do so.
In some cases, an overly sweaty back may be due to primary hyperhidrosis. The IHS list the following treatment options for this condition:
The IHS recommend that people work with their doctor to determine the best treatment strategy.
A person should talk to their doctor if they are unsure why their back is sweating. They should also see a doctor if the sweating causes them emotional distress or interferes with their daily activities.
A doctor will work to establish the cause of the sweating. They can then recommend appropriate treatments to help prevent future episodes of sweating.
Some doctors may not be familiar with primary hyperhidrosis. The IHS provide an online tool that can help a person find a doctor who has experience in treating the condition.
It is normal to experience a sweaty back when exercising or during bouts of hot weather. However, a sweaty back can also be a symptom of anxiety, menopause, or an underlying health condition. It could also be a side effect of some medications.
An excessively sweaty back can be uncomfortable and may cause embarrassment or psychological distress. In some cases, it may interfere with a person’s daily activities.
A person should talk to their doctor if they experience unexplained heavy sweating on the back or other areas of their body. Once the doctor has established the cause of the sweating, they can develop a treatment plan to help control it.