What is hidradenitis suppurativa?

Hidradenitis Suppurativa

Hidradenitis suppurativa: Overview

Hidradenitis suppurativa (say "hih-drad-uh-NY-tus sup-yur-uh-TY-vuh") is a skin condition that causes lumps on the skin that look like pimples or boils. The lumps are usually painful and can break open and drain blood and bad-smelling pus. The condition can come and go for many years.

Treatment for this condition may include antibiotics and other medicines. You may need surgery to remove the lumps. Home care includes wearing loose-fitting clothes and washing the area gently. You can help prevent lumps from coming back by staying at a healthy weight and not smoking.

Doctors don't know exactly how this condition starts. But they do know that something irritates and inflames the hair follicles, causing them to swell and form lumps. This skin condition can't be spread from person to person (isn't contagious).

What are the symptoms of hidradenitis suppurativa?

Common symptoms include the appearance of painful, red lumps that may look like pimples, acne, or boils. They usually occur in areas where skin rubs against skin, such as the armpit, the buttocks, or the inner thighs. They can also become infected and break open, draining blood and pus.

How is hidradenitis suppurativa treated?

Treatment for this condition depends on how serious it is. You may need to take pills, like antibiotics, or rub a prescription ointment or cream on the affected skin. Your doctor may give you corticosteroid injections (shots) into the affected areas or hormone pills to take. Or the infected tissue may be removed.

How is hidradenitis suppurativa diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and examine the area where the lumps are. Your doctor may want to know when the symptoms began and if you've had them before. If they're leaking fluid or pus, your doctor may test the fluid to see if you have an infection.

How can you care for yourself when you have hidradenitis suppurativa?

Using your hands, wash the affected skin every day with mild soap. If possible, leave the affected areas uncovered. If you have lumps that are draining, cover them with a bandage or other dressing. If you have pain, try placing a warm compress on the area for about 10 minutes.

Hidradenitis suppurativa

Hidradenitis suppurativa in the armpit, with close-up of the lumps

Hidradenitis suppurativa is a skin condition that causes lumps in areas where skin rubs against skin, such as in the armpit. The lumps look like pimples, acne, or boils. The lumps are usually painful and can become infected.

The lumps may come and go for years. If the condition isn't treated and gets worse, hollow tunnels can form under the skin. Over time, the infection and tunnels will heal, but a thick scar may form. These scars can keep skin from stretching naturally.

Hidradenitis suppurativa: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have symptoms of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the area.
    • Pus draining from the area.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.