Chronic Skin Disorder

Hidradenitis suppurativa is a chronic skin disorder affecting the hair follicles. The disease starts with sore red lumps (or boils), typically involving the armpits, breasts, lower abdomen, groin, and buttocks. These lesions appear suddenly, increase in size and then burst or rupture, usually under the surface of the skin. This causes severe pain. Sometimes they rupture to the surface of the skin, draining pus. In some people, they can result in tunnels under the skin that may or may not continue to drain. When the lumps heal, they can leave scars.

This skin disorder is found in about 1% of the population and is more common in women than men. The condition typically begins around puberty, but may also start later.

The cause is unknown. It may be partially caused by genetics since the condition often runs in families. The immune system is over active in people with hidradenitis, which contributes to the inflamed spots or lumps. The disease is not contagious and cannot be passed between people by skin-on-skin touching or touching the drainage from any lesions.

Symptoms, Diagnosis and Outlook

Hidradenitis suppurativa is usually a very painful condition. Some people with the disease will experience draining sores that require daily dressings. Others may also have inflammation and swelling in their joints.

The main symptom consists of painful, red bumps that occur repeatedly over time. Sometimes the areas itch or have an odor.

There are three stages of this skin disorder:

  • Stage 1 includes blackheads and bumps with little scarring
  • Stage 2 includes multiple bumps with a few tunnels and scarring
  • Stage 3 includes multiple bumps and tunnels covering sections of the body, with more extensive tunnels and scarring

Diagnosis of hidradenitis suppurativa can usually be made based on your information about the breakouts and your clinician’s observation of the affected areas.

There is currently no cure. However, treatment can often decrease your symptoms and reduce the condition’s impact on your life.

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Why Choose Penn State Health for Care

Expert Management of Hidradenitis Suppurativa

The clinic for hidradenitis suppurativa at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center specializes in the management of this condition. The clinic features a multidisciplinary team that includes dermatologists, nurse practitioners and researchers working together to offer compassionate, advanced care.

The team of specialists in Penn State Health’s Department of Dermatology sees more than 40,000 patient visits every year. As one of the highest-ranked clinics for patient satisfaction within the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, the department is also nationally recognized, with many of the physicians listed in the national database of best doctors.

National Leader in Research

Penn State Health includes the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, the only academic medical center in central Pennsylvania. Hershey Medical Center is a national leader in research and on the leading edge of new treatment, including clinical trials, in partnership with Penn State College of Medicine.

Researchers in Penn State Health’s Department of Dermatology are currently evaluating diet and its role in treating and coping with hidradenitis suppurativa. For more details, visit Studyfinder.

Support Groups

Penn State Dermatology has partnered with Hope for HS, the first organization that offers a face-to-face support group for people with hidradenitis suppurativa. Penn State Health clinicians, researchers and staff host meetings every other month and help you share experiences, hear from others and learn about your condition. Contact Hope for HS for more information.

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