Innovative Surgery at Memorial Regional Hospital Relieves Excessive Sweating for Young Woman
February 2005 — "I was the queen of black and cotton," says 28-year-old Natalie when talking about living with hyperhidrosis, the medical term for excessive sweating. "Because my underarms and hands sweated so much, I couldn't wear red (it stains badly), white (it yellows) or fabrics like silk. So, I had a whole wardrobe of black cotton clothing."
For as long as Natalie can remember, she sweated profusely from her hands, feet and underarms. "When I was young and learning to write, the paper would get wet from my hands," she recalls. "And the problem really started getting bad after puberty. I wouldn't have ordinary moisture, but puddles and pools of water literally dripping from me."
Some researchers suspect that hyperhidrosis is a hereditary condition, but Natalie, an only child, does not know of any family members who have the problem. She has always maintained a normal weight, so the excessive sweating is not a side effect of obesity. "There seemed to be no triggers for the sweating," she says. "It was completely random. I could be lying in bed on a cool night and break into a sweat for no reason."
But if she knew for certain the cause of hyperhidrosis, it wouldn't make it any easier to live with the condition. With the stigmas attached to excessive sweating, sufferers may avoid many social and business situations. Natalie had wanted to pursue a medical career, but felt she could not because her hand sweating would interfere with the wearing of rubber gloves. She also knew she would not be comfortable in a career that required frequent handshaking. (Thanks to supportive coworkers, she has enjoyed a satisfying career recruiting and training foster parents.) In addition, Natalie could not drive a car with a stick shift, play video games or fully enjoy scrapbooking because of her sweaty hands.
Throughout her life, Natalie searched for a permanent solution to her hyperhidrosis problem. Doctors had prescribed topical antiperspirants and oral medications, among other treatments. She considered botulinum toxin A (Botox®) injections — a popular, FDA-approved method for controlling sweating that involves injections into the site of the sweat — but knew that these treatments, while effective, would be temporary.
Then, Natalie mentioned the problem to another doctor. Through his referral, she found Ian Heger, MD, neurosurgeon on the medical staff at Memorial Regional Hospital, Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital, Memorial Hospital West, Memorial Hospital Miramar and Memorial Hospital Pembroke, and Richard Cartledge, MD, cardiothoracic surgeon on the medical staff at Memorial Regional Hospital and Memorial Hospital West. "They were the only doctors in the southeast I had ever found who actually were in tune with the problem and had a permanent solution," she says.
As Natalie learned, Drs. Heger and Cartledge had successfully performed a surgical procedure called endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy (ETS) on several patients. Done under general anesthesia, the surgery involves the removal of the sympathetic nerve chain to help alleviate excessive sweating in the hands, feet and underarms. The sweat glands are then no longer "turned on" by nerve signals from the spinal column. The procedure takes approximately two hours to complete and leaves just three tiny scars in the armpit.
Thrilled to have finally found a solution to her lifelong problem, Natalie underwent ETS surgery on October 20, 2004, at Memorial Regional Hospital. "I woke up in the recovery room and discovered that my hands were dry. It was a miracle," she says. "And I haven't sweated since." She went home the next day, and returned to work 10 days later.
"I'd definitely recommend the surgery to anyone who's suffering from hyperhidrosis. Thanks to Drs. Heger and Cartledge, I can do things I've never been able to do before. In fact, I now need to put moisturizing lotion on my hands!"
If you would like a referral to a physician, call Memorial Physician Referral Service toll-free at (800) 944-DOCS. We're available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.