Rare Skin Conditions: Hidradenitis Suppurativa

Many people think of dermatologists as medical professionals who largely take care of people's cosmetic skincare needs, like acne or wrinkles. But when you consider that the skin is the human body's largest organ, it is easy to see that dermatologists are tasked with taking care of way more than just superficial needs. 

As the skin serves as the body's coat, protecting the internal organs and skeletal system, it can become susceptible to many ailments over the years. The skin can also hint at underlying medical conditions in other parts of the body.

One little known skin condition that dermatologists treat is called hidradenitis suppurativa, which is sometimes called acne inversa. Many times, even those suffering from this skin affliction are unaware that it has a name and can be treated. Here is a basic primer on this oftentimes debilitating skin condition.

What is hidradenitis suppurativa?

It is an autoimmune skin disease that is characterized by chronic inflammation of the skin under the arms, under the breasts, and in the folds of the groin. These areas are where the skin contains the apocrine glands. Apocrine glands are a certain type of sweat glands common in these areas, and they end in hair follicles rather than pores.

With hidradenitis suppurativa, the skin is prone to boil-like abscesses that are painful and pus-filled. They can also be open, oozing skin ulcers. They tend to recur, and they leave extensive scarring. As you might imagine, because of the locations and symptoms, this condition can be embarrassing and make walking and moving difficult as well as performing the daily activities of living nearly impossible. This can then lead to depression. 

Who is a candidate for hidradenitis suppurativa?

While it often begins at puberty, anyone can suddenly develop this condition. It is more common in women than men, and fluctuating hormones likely play a role. Menopause can bring relief.

Risk factors include:

  • A family member who has it
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Rare autoimmune syndromes

What is the treatment for hidradenitis suppurativa?

If the patient is a smoker, quitting smoking is imperative. Smoking is obviously bad for many reasons, but quitting can quickly improve hidradenitis suppurativa.

Losing weight and following a low-sugar and low-dairy diet has also been found to be extremely helpful. Even if weight is not an issue, the reduced sugar and dairy diet is required as these substances can "feed" the abscesses.

Hidradenitis suppurativa is a difficult condition and is not easily managed. In addition to the above lifestyle changes, a dermatologist's care is needed. Many times, long-term antibiotic usage as well as hormonal supplements are required to control the condition. Click here to continue reading.