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Hidradenitis Suppurativa

Chronic, often debilitating skin disease


Updated May 13, 2014

Imagine having a skin disease that your doctor did not understand, that was painful, that none of the treatments you tried made any better, and that kept getting worse over time. Some days you wouldn't go out in public because of the painful sores on your skin. You would then have some idea of what having hidradenitis suppurativa is like.

Hidradenitis suppurativa usually develops in otherwise healthy people, but it has been associated with Crohn's disease in some individuals. It is a non-contagious skin disease that usually appears on the body in skin folds of the underarms, groin, or perianal area. It has three main stages, beginning with boils or pockets of infection (abscesses). These become hard, painful, inflamed lumps with drainage (suppuration). Tunnels (sinus tracts) may form around and between the lumps. Scars form. The last stage is the most debilitating, because large areas of skin are affected by the abscesses, sinus tracts, lumps, and scars.

Worsens over time
Hidradenitis suppurativa usually develops slowly over time, with flare-ups, but in some people the disease progresses quickly. The course of the disease varies for each person. Some will stay at one stage most of the time; others will develop debilitating disease.

There is as yet no definitive, consistently effective treatment, and no cure. Abscesses can be drained, and in severe cases the painful lumps and sinus tracts can be surgically removed. Radiation therapy has proved helpful for some people. Pain medications, and sometimes antibiotics, can also help.

A rare disorder?
Few studies have attempted to discover how prevalent hidradenitis suppurativa is in the world. One figure given is 1% of the general population is affected. It seems clear that the disease could be easily misdiagnosed as boils, carbuncles, or just a skin infection, so hidradenitis suppurativa may not be rare at all. More research needs to be to determine what causes the disease, how prevalent it is, and how it can best be treated and cured.

Information for this article was taken from:
- HS USA.org. What is Hidradenitis Suppurativa?
- Jovanovic, M. (2002). Hidradenitis suppurativa. eMedicine, accessed at http://www.emedicine.com/derm/topic892.htm

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