What is hidradenitis suppurativa?
Hidradenitis suppurativa is a chronic inflammatory skin disease involving the hair follicles and sweat glands. Also known as acne inversa, this condition usually begins with the appearance of pimple-like bumps on the skin. Without treatment, these bumps can worsen, grow deep into the skin and turn into painful hard lumps or pockets of pus (boils). The pockets often break open. After they heal, thick scars often form.
Where does hidradenitis suppurativa occur?
Hidradenitis suppurativa typically affects areas of the body where skin touches skin. These areas may include the underarms, buttocks, breasts, and groin (genitals and around the anus), and the inner thigh.
Who gets hidradenitis suppurativa?
Hidradenitis suppurativa affects between 1 to 4 percent of people in the U.S. It is more commonly seen in females than males. Hidradenitis suppurativa is typically seen in young people, starting at puberty (around 11 years of age) up to about age 40. It is also more commonly seen in African Americans, smokers, and overweight or obese people.
What causes hidradenitis suppurativa?
The skin bumps seen with hidradenitis suppurativa occur when hair follicles and/or sweat glands become clogged and inflamed due to abnormal overgrowth of cells. This overgrowth is thought to be secondary to hormones and/or nicotine. After becoming blocked, these structures then rupture causing increased local inflammation and scarring. Hidradenitis suppurativa is not contagious, sexually transmitted, or caused by poor hygiene.
Doctors do not know what causes some people to develop this disease. Researchers are investigating whether hidradenitis suppurativa is genetic (passed down among family members). Sex hormones are also thought to be a possible cause since many cases of hidradenitis suppurativa begin to be seen at puberty.
People with hidradenitis suppurativa often have other medical issues in common. These conditions include:
- Heart disease
- Dissecting cellulitis (severe patchy hair loss on the scalp)
- Inflammatory bowel diseases (some, like Crohn’s, have skin symptoms that mimic hidradenitis suppurativa)
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (hormonal disorder in women)
- High body mass index (being overweight)
What are the symptoms of hidradenitis suppurativa?
When it first develops, hidradenitis suppurativa can have symptoms that range from mild itching and discomfort to the appearance of a red, tender, and swollen areas. Pimple- and/or boil-like bumps appear and can grow, fill with pus, and then break open. The pus that drains sometimes has a foul odor due to the presence of bacteria. Healing of the bumps can cause scarring. Symptoms vary from person to person.
In some patients, the breakouts can reoccur in the exact spot; in others, breakouts occur in the same area but not in the exact same spot. Some people have constant breakouts on their skin; in others, scars are the only sign present at that point in time.