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A Solution on Her Hands

Courtney Fransen’s hands used to be constantly on her mind.

Every day her palms would sweat so much that she would hide her hands under long sleeves, looking for a way to wipe off the moisture that would drip down her arms.

On the basketball court, her hands would get so wet that the ball would slip out of her fingers. Every week, she’d quietly leave church services to avoid having to hold or shake hands.

And even a decade later, she remembers the feeling of dread that would strike during the weeks she had to learn dancing in gym class.

“The sweating was something I just couldn’t control,” says the 20-year-old nursing student. “I remember wanting to call home sick just so I didn’t have to hold hands to do the jitterbug one more time. It was awful.”

More than sweaty palms

Eventually Courtney’s family learned that she had hyperhidrosis, a hypersensitivity of the sweat glands that can cause extreme sweating in several parts of the body. Her feet and hands would regularly sweat heavily. Nervousness or fear made the sweating even worse.

The condition effects roughly two to four percent of people, says vascular surgeon Dr. Gregory Schultz. For people like Courtney, hyperhidrosis is far more than just inconvenient, he says.

“Hyperhidrosis has such a negative effect on social interactions, professional interactions and someone’s general social well-being,” said Dr. Schultz. “People can be totally incapacitated by this.”

As Courtney approached her teen years, her family began to look for options that could ease her symptoms. They tried topical antiperspirants of different types, but they weren’t very effective.

When she was 16 years old, they went to visit a dermatologist to talk about possibly treating the condition with botox injections. During the appointment, they learned that the shots would be very painful to her hands and feet and would only work temporarily.

An end in sight

But the doctor told Courtney and her mother that Sanford Vascular Associates offered a surgical option that could possibly end her extreme sweating for good. The idea of never having to worry about her palms again was incredibly appealing, Courtney said.

“I looked at my mom and said, ‘Let’s do it!’” says Courtney. “If there was something we could do, I wanted to try it.”

The family consulted with Dr. Schultz, who put Courtney’s mind at ease about the operation, called endoscopic thoracic symphathectomy surgery. Making small incisions under each arm, the surgeon would use scopes to interrupt the nerves that control the sweat glands in her hands and armpits.

Courtney wasn’t nervous until the night before the surgery, when she looked down at her hands profusely dripping with sweat. Her mother reminded her that this was the symptom they would be preventing in the future.

The procedure went well and after an overnight stay, Courtney was home. At first she wondered if the sweating in her hands would come back. She would feel the tingle that used to precede her sweat glands kicking in, but her hands stayed dry.

“I asked my parents to scare me or something, so I could see if they’d sweat,” she says. “But it never came back.”

Her new life

Courtney went on to play basketball, softball, golf and volleyball in high school, never having to worry again about her wet hands getting in the way. She decided to major in nursing, motivated by the great care she got from Sanford doctors and nurses when she was in the hospital.

She’s been pleased to be able to meet people and shake their hands, never having to think about her wet palms. She can’t imagine job interviews or how she would perform a nursing job if she still struggled with the pools of sweat.

Helping patients like Courtney end their problems with hyperhidrosis is incredibly rewarding, Dr. Schultz says. For patients who have given up hope, he can offer a solution, he says.

“I almost come to tears when I meet these people and I see the struggle they have seen in their lives,” Dr. Schultz. “You see such a difference in their personality when they come back after the surgery.

Courtney, who plays on a South Dakota State University co-recreational basketball team that recently won the university-wide tournament, says she met another player who struggled with the moisture that coated the ball while he played. She told him about the way surgery made such a difference in her life.

“It was absolutely life changing,” says Courtney. “It’s truly amazing how much this can help you. It opens up everything.”

Posted Date: February 2013