Managing hidradenitis suppurativa: Early treatment is crucial

It's important to diagnose hidradenitis suppurativa as soon as possible, as early diagnosis and treatment can help lessen some of the emotional and physical pain caused by the condition.

To diagnose hidradenitis suppurativa, doctors typically look for:

  • Lumps that occur under the skin
  • Lumps that occur in skin folds or areas of the body where skin rubs together, such as the armpits, under the breasts or between the buttocks
  • Lumps that have been around for six months or more

Unfortunately, hidradenitis suppurativa is often misdiagnosed as boils (furuncles), which also feature painful lumps under the skin. Some people with hidradenitis suppurativa wait years before their condition is correctly diagnosed.

Treatment options

There is no cure for hidradenitis suppurativa, but once diagnosed, several treatment options exist. Your doctor will likely identify treatment goals, such as:

  • Preventing new lesions from occurring
  • Treating nodules quickly to prevent the formation of tunnels that connect multiple nodules under the skin
  • Eliminating current nodules and reducing scarring

He or she will then recommend a treatment or combination of treatments based on factors such as the severity of your condition and your lifestyle. Treatments might include:

  • Topical and oral medications, including antibiotics and drugs derived from vitamin A (retinoids)
  • Minor outpatient surgery to drain the nodules and help prevent new lumps from forming in the same area
  • Extensive surgery for complicated cases

Lifestyle changes

Depending on your lifestyle, your doctor might also recommend changes to supplement your treatment, such as:

  • Giving up smoking. Remission will be difficult if you smoke. Smoking can worsen symptoms and flares.
  • Losing weight. If you're obese, weight loss can reduce the hormonal activity that influences hidradenitis suppurativa. It can also lessen skin friction and chaffing, which can worsen symptoms.
  • Changing your diet. Limited evidence suggests that eliminating dairy from your diet might reduce the number of new lesions that develop and lessen signs and symptoms of hidradenitis suppurativa. Talk to your doctor before modifying your diet.
Feb. 23, 2016 See more In-depth