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Learning About Hidradenitis Suppurativa

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

What is hidradenitis suppurativa?

Hidradenitis suppurativa (say "hih-drad-uh-NY-tus sup-yur-uh-TY-vuh") is a skin condition that causes lumps on the skin. The lumps look like pimples or boils. The condition can come and go for many years. This skin condition can't be spread from person to person (isn't contagious).

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.

What are the symptoms?

Red lumps that may look like pimples, acne, or boils appear on the skin and are usually painful. The lumps:

  • Usually occur in areas where skin rubs against skin, such as in the armpit. They can also appear under the breasts, in the groin area, on the buttocks, around the anus, and on the inner thighs.
  • May go away on their own in a few weeks. But they often come back in the same area.
  • Can become infected and break open, draining blood and pus that usually smells bad.

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.

How is hidradenitis suppurativa treated?

The treatment depends on how serious the condition is. Your doctor may discuss:

  • Medicines. You may need to take pills, such as antibiotics, or rub a prescription ointment or cream on the affected skin.
  • Corticosteroid injections (shots). You may get these shots into the affected areas.
  • Hormone pills. Some women are helped by taking birth control pills or other medicines that affect their hormones.
  • Removing infected tissue.

Home treatment

Home treatment may provide pain relief and help prevent nodules from coming back. Home treatment includes:

  • Wearing loose-fitting clothes.
  • Washing the area gently with mild soap.
  • Staying at a healthy weight. If you are overweight, losing weight may help the condition.
  • Quitting smoking, if you smoke.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse call line if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

Where can you learn more?

Go to https://www.healthwise.net/patientEd

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Care instructions adapted under license by your healthcare professional. If you have questions about a medical condition or this instruction, always ask your healthcare professional. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.