Hidradenitis Suppurativa (HS) Awareness Week is here, and we’re here to help educate and raise awareness for this devastating disease. Many people have no clue this disease exists or the damaging toll it takes on its patients and their families. And that’s exactly why we’re here to help educate and spread awareness.
What is HS?
Hidradenitis Suppurativa is a chronic, auto-inflammatory skin condition characterized by painful abscesses that commonly form on glands under the arms and breasts and along the buttocks and groin.
“HS is one of the most devastating dermatologic diseases I treat,” said Dr. Kristi Hawley, our board-certified dermatologist. “The immune system attacks these glands, causing them to become really tender and inflamed. This disease is hormonal and typically begins in adolescence, and it’s diagnosed more often in women than men.”
When HS symptoms first begin, they appear as painful, recurring cysts. Because of its location and appearance, HS is often misdiagnosed as a bacterial infection. HS is also mistaken for ingrown hairs, folliculitis, staph infections, cellulitis, and STDs.
But unfortunately, HS cannot be cured, unlike those other diagnoses. Due to HS, the lesions often flare up and refill and leave behind terrible scarring. Due to how often HS is misdiagnosed, it takes on average 15 doctor’s visits over seven years before patients achieve the correct diagnosis.
“HS has been thought of as a rare disease, but it’s not,” Dr. Hawley said. “It’s just difficult to diagnose. Many patients just think it’s a bacterial infection. They often feel ashamed about it due to its appearance and location. So, they usually don’t tell their parents, friends, or family about their condition.”
It’s estimated that 1–4% of the population (up to 13 million Americans) have HS. The cause of HS is still unclear, but doctors have found that a malfunctioning immune system, genetics, hormones, unique anatomy of hair follicles, skin microbiome, and environmental triggers are all considered factors.
“The most common misconception about HS is that it’s infectious — people think they’re causing this themselves,” Dr. Hawley said. “The hardest part is getting the diagnosis correct.”
Dr. Hawley said the sooner HS can be diagnosed and treated, the less severe the disease will progress. At The Derm Institute of West Michigan, Dr. Hawleyy keeps emergency appointments available for HS patients that have flares come up.
When HS patients come in, she treats them with oral medication to start. When flares occur, she performs injections into the tender areas that help calm the flares down immediately.
“Essentially, HS can completely ruin these people’s lives, and there’s not a lot of awareness about it,” Dr. Hawley said. “These poor people — it affects their work. They tend to lose their jobs, and they’re least likely to get promoted. It inhibits their ability to date or have any sort of career or life. My goal is to get people in early and get the diagnosis correct so we can help treat them and give them a life they deserve to have.”
We specialize in treating HS at The Derm Institute of West Michigan. Dr. Hawley is one of the few dermatologists in the West Michigan area specifically trained in this disease. If you have any speculation or questions, stop by our office for a skin exam.
We’re here to address all of your skin concerns and help you put your best foot forward!