What is hidradenitis suppurativa?

By Medically reviewed by hellodoktor

Know the basics

What is hidradenitis suppurativa?

Hidradenitis suppurativa is a chronic (recurrent) disease that causes painful sensation to the patient. In the early stages, your skin will appear pimple-like bumps on the skin. These bumps then will spread and develop in places that everyday pimples do not appear.

How common is hidradenitis suppurativa?

An estimated 1% of the population has hidradenitis suppurativa – but this may be an underestimate, as some people might be too embarrassed to seek diagnosis and treatment.

Know the symptoms

What are the symptoms of hidradenitis suppurativa?

Unlike everyday pimples, hidradenitis suppurativa can appear on any skin area. It is most common in these areas:

  • Underarms (one or both);
  • Groin (genitals, around the anus, and surrounding area);
  • Buttocks;
  • Upper thighs;
  • Women’s breasts (underneath and sometimes on the breasts).

When people first get hidradenitis suppurativa, they often see:

  • One (or several) breakouts that look like pimples or boils;
  • Breakouts may stay on the skin; sometimes, they clear and reappear;

Without treatment, the person may develop:

  • Painful, deep breakouts that heal and reappear;
  • Breakouts that rupture and leak a foul-smelling fluid;
  • Scars that form as breakouts repeatedly heal and reappear;
  • Scars that become thicker with time;
  • Skin that begins to look spongy as tunnel-like tracts form deep in the skin;
  • Serious infections;
  • Skin cancer (rare).

Symptoms can range from mild to severe between different people, and at different times in the same person. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

Early diagnosis of hidradenitis suppurativa is the key to getting effective treatment. See your doctor if your condition:

  • Is painful;
  • Doesn’t improve in a few weeks;
  • Returns within weeks of treatment;
  • Appears in several locations;
  • Recurs often.

Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Know the causes

What causes hidradenitis suppurativa?

It is still not clear why some people get this disease, but some believe that clogged pores might lead to this condition. As the sweat and dirt get trapped in the pore, the hair follicles may swell up and burst, or become infected. It is possible that hidradenitis suppurativa develops in people who have an immune system that overreacts to the clogged hair follicle.

Know the risk factors

What increases my risk for hidradenitis suppurativa?

Hidradenitis suppurativa is most common in:

  • Overweight or obese people;
  • Smokers;
  • Women (3 times more common in women than men).

Hidradenitis suppurativa usually begins around puberty. Few people develop hidradenitis suppurativa before 11 years of age. When hidradenitis suppurativa appears before 11 years of age, the child is usually experiencing early puberty. Getting hidradenitis suppurativa after menopause or 55 years of age is rare.

Hidradenitis suppurativa is an inherited condition. It runs in the families of about one third of those with the condition.

Understand the diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is hidradenitis suppurativa diagnosed?

The diagnosis is made by checking the skin area that are affected to look for pimples. Your doctor may take swabs from the area to see which type of germ is present. There is no specific test on which the diagnosis is made.

How is hidradenitis suppurativa treated?

Hidradenitis suppurativa usually persists for many years, but can become inactive eventually. Treatment usually helps even though it cannot switch the hidradenitis off once and for all. Early and long-term treatment may help control pain, promote wound healing, keep new lumps from forming and prevent complications.

Several treatment options are available. Talk with your doctor about the risks and benefits of each and which combination of self-care, drugs or surgical procedures are right for you.

Some suppressive treatments include:

  • Topical and oral drugs.These include antibiotics and drugs derived from vitamin A (retinoids).
  • Other drugs that reduce inflammation include steroid, etc.
  • Drugs that suppress the immune system
  • Pain medication.
  • Surgery may be an option when HS is severe or fails to respond to other treatment.

Each treatment has its own set of possible side-effects. When you start a medicine, ask your doctor about any problems which may arise for your particular condition.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage hidradenitis suppurativa?

Mild hidradenitis suppurativa may be treated with only self-care measures. But self-care is also an important complement to any medical treatment you may be getting. The following suggestions may help relieve discomfort and speed healing of sores:

  • Lose weight to lessen hidradenitis suppurativa.
  • Quit smoking to reduce hidradenitis suppurativa flare-ups.
  • Stop shaving where you have breakouts.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothes to reduce friction.
  • Keep your skin cool.
  • Stress management.

One of the greatest challenges of living with hidradenitis suppurativa may be coping with pain and embarrassment. Painful sores might affect your sleep, mobility or sex life. If the sores are draining pus, they can smell, despite good self-care. You might feel anxious and become withdrawn, self-conscious or depressed.

Try to find support among your family and friends. You may also find the concern and understanding of other people with hidradenitis suppurativa comforting. Ask your doctor for a referral to a mental health professional or contact information for a support group.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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