Hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) is a skin condition that gets worse the longer you have it. It also can lead to other health problems. But if you get treatment for it early on, you may avoid the most serious complications. Here are some problems the condition can cause and how you can try to stop them.
In HS, the opening to hair follicles in areas with a lot of oils and sweat glands gets clogged. Oily material and sweat build up inside, forming a pimple or boil.
If bacteria are trapped behind the clog, they can grow and cause an infection. If the inflamed lump bursts under your skin, the infection will spread to nearby sweat glands and hair follicles. Without treatment, the infection can spread to the skin itself or to your blood. That’s extremely rare but very serious.
But you can lower the chances you’ll get an infection if you:
- Don’t squeeze or pop the lumps.
- Wash the area with antibacterial soap.
- Use antibiotic creams or ointment.
- Take a bleach bath. If your doctor finds bacteria on the surface of your skin, she may suggest you bathe for 5 or 10 minutes in a weak bleach solution. She’ll let you know the proper way to do it.
Your doctor may give you antibiotics to clear up an infection or prevent one.
As HS heals, it usually leaves scars. Over time, areas where you’ve had repeated flare-ups can have thick bands of scar tissue. That may change how well you can walk or raise your arms.
Early treatment can keep the disease from getting worse so you end up with fewer scars. Severe, raised scars may be treated with steroid shots or removed by a surgeon.
Pain can take an emotional toll on people with HS. The condition can make you feel self-conscious about how your skin looks, too. The disease often appears during the teenage years, when you’re especially sensitive about your self-image. You could get socially isolated because you’re embarrassed, and be reluctant to go out because of the location, drainage, and smell of the sores. And keeping to yourself too much can make you feel sad and depressed. But there are things that can help:
Talk about it. Be open with your family and close friends about how you feel. Support groups or online forums can connect you with people who understand what you’re going through. You may feel better if you talk to a professional counselor, too.
Get diagnosed. Just being able to put a name to the condition gives some people a sense of relief. Don’t be embarrassed to talk to your doctor about it. Remember: HS doesn’t start because you’re unclean.
Take control. If you take an active part in your treatment, you won’t feel as helpless. Get to a healthy weight, try an anti-inflammatory diet, stop smoking, and get regular exercise. With your doctor, come up with a plan to manage your symptoms.
Restricted movement. Sores and scar tissue may make movement harder or more painful, especially if HS affects your armpits or thighs.
Obstructed lymph drainage. The most common areas where people get hidradenitis suppurativa also have many lymph nodes. Scar tissue can interfere with the lymph drainage system. That may lead to swelling in the arms, legs, or genitals.
Inflammatory bowel disease. If you have stomach pain that keeps coming back, chronic diarrhea, bloody stools, or weight loss you can’t explain, see your doctor.
Some types of cancer show up more often in people who have HS. A skin cancer called squamous cell carcinoma can be a dangerous complication of the disease. Because it’s hard to detect, talk to your doctor about whether you need more careful screening for skin cancer.
National Organization for Rare Disorders: “Hidradenitis Suppurativa.”
American Academy of Dermatology: “Hidradenitis Suppurativa.”
National Health Service: “Hidradenitis Suppurativa.”
Medscape: “Hidradenitis Suppurativa.”
Best Practice & Research: Clinical Obstetrics & Gynaecology: “Hidradenitis suppurativa.”
Acta Dermato-Venereologica: “Psychosocial Impact of Hidradenitis Suppurativa: A Qualitative Study.”
Guy’s and St. Thomas’ Hospitals: “Living with Hidradenitis Suppurativa.”
Hidradenitis Suppurativa Foundation.
Dermatology Online Journal: “Diseases associated with hidradenitis suppurativa: part 2 of a series on hidradenitis.”