Loyola surgeon uses robot to treat an embarrassing disorder that affects more than 7 million Americans
MAYWOOD, Ill. -- Millions of people in the United States suffer from a medical condition that can unpredictably cause them to begin sweating as if they had just finished running a marathon.
Hyperhidrosis, or excessive sweating, is a common disorder that first becomes noticeable during childhood or adolescence. People with hyperhidrosis could be doing something as leisurely as lying down or watching television and sweat will still soak their bodies. Sweating may occur regardless of the time of day, temperature, time of year or what clothes they are wearing.
In most cases, the sweating gets to the point that it becomes an embarrassment. Affected people often go to great lengths to cloak their condition, including layering and constantly changing their clothing, using prescription-strength deodorants or Botox treatments or placing paper towels under their armpits to soak up the sweat.
Individuals with hyperhidrosis produce four to five times more sweat than is normal or necessary, according to the International Hyperhidrosis Society. Mainly involving the palms of the hands, soles of the feet and the underarms, hyperhidrosis affects more than 7 million Americans.
Untreated, the condition may continue over a lifetime. Though not life-threatening, people with hyperhidrosis endure significant embarrassment at work, school or during social events. The sweating can make it difficult for sufferers to perform jobs that require a deft use of their hands. It can be especially problematic for people such as business professionals whose jobs require them to interact with many new people.
"Hyperhidrosis patients have sympathetic nervous systems with faulty wiring so that they are ultra sensitive to the normal causes of sweating," said Dr. Robert Love, a surgeon who successfully treats the condition at Loyola University Medical Center.
To treat hyperhidrosis, Love performs a procedure called an endoscopic thoracic sympathectomy, using a robotic surgical system. Unlike the traditional surgery used to treat the condition, which requires a large incision and up to a week in the hospital, the ETS procedure is done thoracoscopically through small incisions, resulting in less pain and reduced loss of blood. Patients are usually discharged the next day.
âIt's the least invasive way to perform that surgery,â said Love, who is also professor and vice chair of thoracic and cardiovascular surgery and surgical director, lung transplant, Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, Maywood, Ill.
Love inserts a tiny camera through small incisions in a patient's armpits, which gives him a three-dimensional view of the sympathetic nerve and the area surrounding it. Through another incision, Love inserts tiny, precision-crafted surgical tools, which he uses to reach the site of the nerve. He snips the nerve and then performs the same procedure on the other side.
Love controls every move of the robotic arms from a computer console at the patientâs bedside. The robotâs arms are fully articulated, allowing them to turn and grasp with more agility and precision than the human hand. The whole procedure takes about 30 minutes.
"In most instances, this is the most effective treatment option for patients with hyperhidrosis because it deals with the problem at its source without having to go through major, thoracic surgery," Love said.