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Hidradenitis suppurativa

Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger HendersonReviewed on 29.04.2024 | 3 minutes read

Hidradenitis suppurativa occurs in areas where there are sweat glands around hair follicles. It is a condition that often affects the armpits but can also affect the groin, under the breasts, and around the anus, as well other areas of the body too. It is a chronic condition that can cause both abscesses and scarring of the skin. The cause of hidradenitis suppurativa is unknown.

The symptoms are very painful lumps that range from blackheads to boils, cysts, or channels (called sinus tracts) that contain and sometimes leak pus. As it is a long-term recurrent condition that requires ongoing management it can cause quite an impact on an individual’s everyday life and can lead to depression.

What is the cause?

The exact cause is not known but as it involves sweat glands and hair follicles, it is understood to develop as a result of blocked follicles and not due to poor hygiene.   Smoking, obesity, and diabetes are strongly associated with this condition, and there is even a link between hidradenitis suppurativa and [Crohn's disease]('s disease!80d37559-8a51-4450-8471-e3eded62ebe2). For unknown reasons, it happens in women more than men and usually starts around puberty.

When should I see my doctor?

You should see your doctor if you think you have hidradenitis suppurativa. Your doctor will examine the affected area of skin. If there is any pus or discharge from the area the doctor may take a sample for it to be sent off to the lab. Your doctor may recommend that you stop smoking or lose weight if they think it would be helpful.

What is the treatment?

It can be helpful not to wear tight clothing and avoid shaving or using perfumed or scented products to prevent irritation and inflammation. Instead, antiseptic skin washes/soaps can be used such as 4% chlorhexidine which can be applied daily to affected areas alongside other treatments. Applying a warm flannel on the lumps regularly each day will encourage the lump to drain the pus and provide some temporary relief to the area.

What about prescription treatments

If your symptoms are not controlled by home self-care treatments, there are a range of different treatment options your doctor can recommend. If you notice your symptoms are worse around your periods, then your doctor may consider contraceptives.   

Antibiotics may be required if there is any evidence of infection; painful, red, inflamed, discharging lump. If there is any discharge from the area, a sample is usually taken first and sent off to the lab. Antibiotics can be prescribed anywhere from a few weeks duration to a few months, depending on the severity of the problem.

Some specialists may prescribe specialist creams, tablets, or injections. Dermatologists may prescribe steroids that can be used to reduce the severity of inflammation. They may also try retinoid creams or immunosuppressive treatments (drugs that suppress the immune system), which can be helpful in some cases. If all other treatment methods have failed or are not suitable, surgery may sometimes be considered.

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 29.04.2024
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