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Spinal Cord Injury and Sweating: What’s the Link?

understanding spinal cord injury and sweating

Wondering what the connection between spinal cord injury and sweating is?

The brain and body communicate through the spinal cord. After a spinal cord injury, the messages cannot get through the spinal lesion, which can cause bodily functions (like sweating) to dysfunction.

Today, you’ll learn why you may experience increased sweating after spinal cord injury and the best ways to manage it.

Let’s get started!

Autonomic Dysreflexia After Spinal Cord Injury

Increased sweating after spinal cord injury is a symptom of autonomic dysreflexia.

Sweating is an autonomic function that is regulated by your sympathetic nervous system at the T1-L2 spinal roots.

Autonomic dysreflexia is when your sympathetic nervous system overreacts when stimulated below your level of injury.

Common triggers of autonomic dysreflexia include:

  • A full bladder or bowel
  • Extreme temperatures
  • Tight clothes
  • Skin irritation (bruises, cuts, blisters, etc.)

Because of paralysis, you may not notice that something is bothering your body. However, your body will let you know that something is wrong in the form of sweating and other autonomic functions like increased blood pressure and reduced heart rate.

Spinal Cord Injury and Sweating

can spinal cord injury cause sweating problems

©iStock.com/AntonioGuillem

Sweating is the body’s way of cooling down.

However after a spinal cord injury, you may experience excessive sweating beyond what is required for thermoregulation. This is called hyperhidrosis.

Most spinal cord injury patients experience very minimal or no sweating below their level of injury and excessive sweating above their level of injury.

Sweat secretion increases above the level of injury to compensate for the loss of sympathetic stimulation below the injury site.

Additionally, the complete absence of sweating or minimal sweating can also occur.

Although very rare, it’s also possible for sweating to occur exclusively below one’s level of injury.

Is Excessive Sweating After Spinal Cord Injury Dangerous?

Unmanaged hyperhidrosis can be uncomfortable and embarrassing, and ultimately, negatively affect quality of life after spinal cord injury.

Excess moisture can be dangerous and contribute to the development of skin irritations like rashes, blisters, and pressure sores.

It can also lead to inconveniences like having to bring extra clothes to change into, washing your sheets frequently, and constantly having to dry yourself off.

If you’re not drinking lots of water, hyperhidrosis can cause dehydration because your body is losing water at a faster rate than it is being replenished.

It’s best to be aware of your surroundings and avoid stimuli that can irritate paralyzed areas of the body.

Treatments for Excessive Sweating After Spinal Cord Injury

There are a wide variety of treatments that can help you manage excessive sweating after spinal cord injury.

Iontophoresis

managing spinal cord injury and sweating

photo credit: Mindfulpersian

Iontophoresis involves using a device that sends low-voltage electrical currents to your hands or feet while they’re submerged in water.

The electric currents stun the sweat glands, which results in temporarily reduced sweat secretion.

Multiple sessions will be required for optimal outcomes, and regular treatments are necessary to maintain results.

Botox

Botox injections can also help reduce excessive sweating after spinal cord injury.

Botox is a nerve blocker, meaning that it can prevent the sweat glands from receiving nerve impulses.

Multiple injections are required for optimal results. Generally, the effects of Botox last for 3-6 months.

Medications

Topical creams or antiperspirants may be prescribed to keep the skin dry.

Another option is to take anticholinergics like oxybutynin, benztropine, and glycopyrrolate.

Anticholinergics block acetylcholine from binding to nerves, which can help reduce sweat secretions.

Surgery

If all other treatments are ineffective, a sympathectomy may be performed.

A sympathectomy is a minimally invasive procedure that involves cutting off a portion of the sympathetic nerve chain.

Two tiny incisions are made under the armpit, and most patients can go home the same day with very minor or no side effects.

Abnormal Sweating After Spinal Cord Injury: Key Points

increased sweating after spinal cord injury

©iStock.com/LightFieldStudios

Excessive sweating above the level of injury is very common among spinal cord injury patients because the connection between the brain and body is disrupted.

Although connections below the level of injury may be cut off, connections above the level of injury aren’t, so your body may overreact to stimuli to signal that something isn’t right.

Excessive sweating can be harmful to spinal cord injury patients because of their limited mobility, which makes them more prone to developing skin irritations.

Luckily, there are many ways to effectively reduce sweating that can help improve your quality of life after spinal cord injury.

Now that you’re aware of what causes increased sweating after SCI and its effects, we highly recommend that you speak to your doctor about what treatments would work best for you. Good luck!

Featured image: ©iStock.com/Koldunova_Anna

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