Clinical Derma

Hidradenitis Suppurativa (HS)


Hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) is a chronic inflammatory skin disease affecting areas with sweat glands and hair follicles, causing painful nodules and abscesses. Clinically, it’s associated with hormonal changes, genetic predisposition, and immune system dysfunction. Non-clinical factors include smoking, obesity, and metabolic syndrome, with nicotine thought to promote inflammation and excess weight leading to increased skin friction and hormonal changes. Although no known cure exists as of my knowledge cutoff in September 2021, treatments aim to manage symptoms and prevent new outbreaks. Early diagnosis is crucial for symptom management and to prevent complications like scarring and infection.


Hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that is often debilitating and affects areas bearing apocrine sweat glands and hair follicles, such as the underarms, groin, buttocks, and breasts. This disease is characterized by recurrent breakouts of painful and inflamed nodules, abscesses, and sometimes sinus tracts and scars.

Clinical Factors:

  1. Hormones: HS tends to start after puberty, suggesting hormones play a role. It can also worsen during menstrual cycles and improve during pregnancy and menopause in some women.
  2. Genetics: Some studies suggest a genetic predisposition. About one-third of people with HS have a family member with the condition.
  3. Immune System Dysfunction: Recent research points to the role of the immune system in HS. It’s believed that certain immune system signals may mistakenly trigger inflammation in hair follicles leading to symptoms.

Non-Clinical Factors:

  1. Smoking: Cigarette smoking is strongly associated with HS. It’s believed that nicotine may promote inflammation and/or impair the normal function of hair follicles.
  2. Obesity: Excess weight can increase the likelihood of developing HS due to increased skin friction and hormone changes associated with obesity. It also increases the severity of the condition.
  3. Metabolic Syndrome: Conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels are seen more commonly in people with HS, suggesting an association.

Hidradenitis Suppurativa has no known cure as of my knowledge cutoff in September 2021, but treatments can help manage symptoms and prevent new breakouts. These treatments might include medications, lifestyle changes, and in some cases, surgery. Early diagnosis and treatment can help manage the symptoms, prevent new breakouts, and prevent complications like scarring and infection. Therefore, anyone with symptoms suggestive of HS should seek medical attention.



HS typically manifests as a range of symptoms including:

  1. Painful lumps: These are often the first sign of HS, appearing in areas where skin rubs together, such as the armpits, groin, and under the breasts. They may be pea-sized and filled with pus.
  2. Tunnels or sinus tracts: Over time, tunnels connecting the lumps can form under the skin. These can leak pus and have an unpleasant odor.
  3. Scarring: The healing of abscesses and sinus tracts often leads to scarring and changes in skin color.
  4. Inflammation and itching: The areas around the lumps and abscesses may be inflamed and itchy.


Diagnosis of HS is primarily based on clinical assessment. A dermatologist or healthcare professional would typically:

  1. Perform a physical examination: This involves looking at the skin and assessing the areas where lumps and abscesses have formed.
  2. Review symptoms and medical history: The doctor would ask about the symptoms, their duration, and impact on daily life. They would also take a detailed medical and family history.
  3. Rule out other conditions: HS can sometimes look like other skin conditions such as boils, deep-seated acne, or lymphogranuloma venereum. Therefore, other conditions may need to be ruled out.
  4. Determine the stage of HS: If HS is diagnosed, the doctor might use the Hurley staging system to classify the severity of the disease.

There are no specific blood tests or imaging studies used routinely to diagnose HS, but they may be employed in certain cases to rule out other conditions or complications. The most important aspect of diagnosis is a thorough clinical evaluation by a dermatologist or knowledgeable healthcare provider.

Prognosis and Impact


HS is a chronic condition, meaning it persists over a long period. There’s no known cure as of my knowledge cutoff in September 2021, and the disease often follows a course of flare-ups and remissions. The severity and progression of HS can be highly variable among individuals. Some people may only have mild symptoms that are easily managed, while others may have severe disease with significant complications such as abscesses, sinus tracts, and scarring. Factors that can affect prognosis include the severity of the disease at presentation, the individual’s response to treatment, and the presence of other health conditions.


The impact of HS can be significant and multifaceted, affecting both physical and emotional well-being:

  1. Physical discomfort: The lesions caused by HS can be painful, itchy, and produce discharge, which can make daily activities such as walking or sitting uncomfortable.
  2. Psychological distress: Due to the chronic nature of the condition, the unpredictable flare-ups, and the visibility of lesions, many people with HS experience emotional distress, including depression and anxiety.
  3. Social isolation: The discomfort and appearance of the lesions, coupled with the odor that can accompany the condition, can lead to feelings of embarrassment and social isolation.
  4. Reduced Quality of Life (QoL): The combined physical and emotional impact often leads to a significant reduction in quality of life.

Managing HS effectively requires a comprehensive approach that addresses not only the physical symptoms but also the psychological and social impact of the disease. This can involve medications and surgery for the skin lesions, as well as psychological support and lifestyle modifications.

Treatment Options

Medical Treatments

  1. Antibiotics: Long-term antibiotics, both topical and oral, are often used to reduce inflammation and prevent infections.
  2. Hormone therapy: Certain hormonal medications, like oral contraceptives or antiandrogen agents, can be beneficial, particularly in women.
  3. Biologics: Certain biologic drugs, like adalimumab (Humira), which target specific parts of the immune system, are approved for the treatment of moderate to severe HS.
  4. Retinoids: Oral retinoids, such as isotretinoin, may be used, but their effectiveness varies.
  5. Steroids: Corticosteroids can be used to decrease inflammation, either as injections into lesions or as systemic therapy in severe cases.

Surgical Treatments

For severe or persistent HS, surgical options can be considered:

  1. Incision and drainage: This is often a temporary solution but can provide relief for some painful HS lumps.
  2. Excision: This involves surgical removal of the affected skin and can be useful in cases where HS is localized to certain areas.
  3. Laser surgery: Certain types of lasers can help destroy the hair follicles that contribute to HS, and laser treatment can also assist in reducing scarring and healing wounds.

Lifestyle Changes

Lifestyle modifications can complement medical and surgical treatments:

  1. Weight loss: If the person is overweight, losing weight can reduce the areas where skin rubs together, reducing friction and potentially improving HS symptoms.
  2. Smoking cessation: As smoking is a risk factor for HS, quitting smoking can potentially improve symptoms.
  3. Heat therapy: Applying warm compresses to the affected areas can help reduce swelling and discomfort.
  4. Proper skincare: Gentle cleaning of the skin, wearing loose-fitting clothes, and using non-irritating soaps and antiseptics can help.

Risks and Side Effects

Medical Treatments

  1. Antibiotics: Long-term use can lead to antibiotic resistance, gastrointestinal problems, and in women, yeast infections.
  2. Hormone therapy: Side effects can include weight gain, mood changes, breast tenderness, and an increased risk of blood clots in some individuals.
  3. Biologics: These can suppress the immune system and increase the risk of serious infections. Other potential side effects include allergic reactions, headache, nausea, and an increased risk of certain malignancies.
  4. Retinoids: Side effects can include dry skin and mucous membranes, joint pain, elevated blood lipids, and in some cases, mood changes. They also carry a high risk of birth defects if used during pregnancy.
  5. Steroids: Steroid use can lead to weight gain, high blood sugar, thinning of the skin, bone loss, and in some cases, adrenal insufficiency after long-term use.

Surgical Treatments

  1. Incision and drainage: This often provides only temporary relief and the HS lesions frequently recur.
  2. Excision: This can lead to scarring, changes in skin sensation, and a long recovery period. There’s also the risk of recurrence of HS in the surgical area.
  3. Laser surgery: Risks include pain, redness, swelling, and possible discoloration of the skin. There’s also a risk of infection and scarring.

Lifestyle Changes

  1. Weight loss: Rapid weight loss can lead to gallstones and nutrient deficiencies. It’s better to aim for a steady, gradual weight loss.
  2. Smoking cessation: Withdrawal symptoms can include irritability, insomnia, depression, and weight gain.

It’s important to understand that while side effects and risks are possible, they must be balanced against the potential benefits of each treatment. The goal is to find the most effective treatment plan with the fewest side effects for each individual. This should always be done in collaboration with a knowledgeable healthcare provider who can monitor for side effects and adjust treatment as necessary.

FAQ Section

What is Hidradenitis Suppurativa (HS)? 

HS is a chronic skin condition characterized by recurrent inflamed nodules and abscesses, primarily in areas where skin rubs together, like the armpits, groin, and under the breasts.


What causes HS? 

The exact cause of HS isn’t known, but it’s believed to be a combination of genetic factors, hormonal influences, immune system dysfunction, and certain lifestyle factors such as smoking and obesity.


What are the symptoms of HS? 

HS is typically characterized by painful, inflamed lumps, which can develop into abscesses and sometimes sinus tracts and scars. The affected area may also itch and emit an unpleasant odor.


How is HS diagnosed? 

Diagnosis of HS is primarily based on a physical examination and review of symptoms by a healthcare professional. They’ll look for the characteristic lumps and abscesses in the typical areas affected by HS.


Can HS be cured? 

As of my knowledge cutoff in September 2021, there is no known cure for HS. However, treatment can help manage symptoms and prevent new breakouts.


What treatment options are available for HS? 

Treatment options include antibiotics, hormonal therapies, biologics, retinoids, and corticosteroids. Surgical treatments such as drainage, excision, or laser surgery may be options for more severe cases. Lifestyle changes, such as weight loss and quitting smoking, can also help manage HS.


Are there side effects associated with these treatments? 

Yes, each treatment can have potential side effects. For example, antibiotics can cause gastrointestinal problems, and biologics can increase the risk of infections. Surgical treatments can lead to scarring and other risks. A healthcare professional can provide a comprehensive discussion of potential side effects.


How does HS affect a person’s life? 

HS can significantly impact a person’s life. Physically, it can cause discomfort and pain. Psychologically, it can lead to emotional distress and feelings of social isolation. However, effective management can help improve quality of life.


Can lifestyle changes help manage HS? 

Yes, certain lifestyle changes like losing weight (if overweight), quitting smoking, and practicing good skin hygiene can help manage HS symptoms.


Can HS be prevented? 

There’s no known way to prevent HS as it’s likely caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors. However, early treatment can help manage symptoms and potentially slow disease progression.


  1. Alikhan, A., Lynch, P. J., & Eisen, D. B. (2009). Hidradenitis suppurativa: a comprehensive review. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, 60(4), 539-561.
  2. Zouboulis, C. C., Desai, N., Emtestam, L., Hunger, R. E., Ioannides, D., Juhász, I., … & van der Zee, H. H. (2015). European S1 guideline for the treatment of hidradenitis suppurativa/acne inversa. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, 29(4), 619-644.
  3. Revuz, J. (2009). Hidradenitis suppurativa. Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology, 23(9), 985-998.
  4. Mayo Clinic. (2020). Hidradenitis suppurativa. Retrieved from
  5. WebMD. (2020). What is hidradenitis suppurativa? Retrieved from
  6. American Academy of Dermatology. (2020). Hidradenitis suppurativa: Diagnosis and treatment. Retrieved from

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