Hidradenitis Suppurativa

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Topic Overview

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 that look like pimples or boils. It can come and go for many years.

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

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 it treated?

The treatment for hidradenitis suppurativa depends on how serious it is. Your doctor may discuss these options:

  • Medicines. You may need to take pills, such as antibiotics, or rub a prescription ointment or cream on the affected skin.
  • Corticosteroid injections (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. This is only done in severe cases.

How can you care for yourself at home?

Skin care

  • Wash the area every day using mild soap. Use your hands rather than a washcloth or sponge when you wash that part of your body.
  • Leave the affected areas uncovered, when you can. If you have lumps that are draining, you can cover them with a bandage or other dressing. Put petroleum jelly (such as Vaseline) on the dressing to help keep it from sticking.
  • Wear loose-fitting clothes. Avoid activities that cause areas of your skin to rub together.

If you have pain, try a warm compress. Soak a towel or washcloth in warm water, wring it out, and place it on the affected skin for about 10 minutes.


  • Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. If your doctor prescribed antibiotics, take them as directed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
  • Call your doctor if you think you are having a problem with your medicine.

Lifestyle choices

  • Stay at a healthy weight, or lose weight, by eating healthy foods and being physically active. Being overweight could make this skin condition worse.
  • If you smoke, think about quitting. Smoking can make hidradenitis suppurativa worse. If you need help quitting, talk to your doctor about stop-smoking programs and medicines. These can increase your chances of quitting for good.


ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerWilliam H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerH. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine

Current as ofFebruary 5, 2016