There are various potential causes of hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) to be aware of, as there is not just one factor that fuels the development of the skin condition. Researchers still have many questions about why HS occurs in some people, including how its root causes can help experts better understand treatment options for hidradenitis suppurativa.
Hidradenitis suppurativa is a chronic condition characterized by painful bumps that form under the skin. Symptoms usually occur on areas of the body where your skin rubs (such as the armpits, groin area, under the breasts, or on the buttocks) and the bumps or sores may leak pus or smelly fluid , according to Mayo Clinic. In severe cases, tunnels may develop under the skin, connecting the lesions to each other.
Somewhere between 1% and 4% of people in the United States1 have hidradenitis suppurativa, and for many of them it can be physically and emotionally painful. People with hidradenitis suppurativa often say they feel self-conscious about the appearance of their skin due to the stigma associated with the condition. This is why it is so important to understand the risk factors for hidradenitis suppurativa and to know that you are not responsible for the disease. Here’s what experts know so far about the causes of hidradenitis suppurativa.
What do experts know about the causes of hidradenitis suppurativa?
There is no clear answer as to what causes hidradenitis suppurativa, both in terms of what causes individual bumps to form and what causes the condition to appear in some people but not in others. ‘others. Experts had previously speculated that hidradenitis suppurativa develops when the apocrine sweat glands2– which are in the armpits, groin and breasts (the most commonly affected areas) – have become infected. However, researchers later discovered that the disease originated in the hair follicles, not the apocrine sweat glands, leading to the current theory that the individual lumps are caused by blocked hair follicles.3.
But that’s only part of the story, Christophe Sayed, MD., associate professor of dermatology at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, says SELF. In addition to follicular occlusion, which means hair follicles become blocked and then rupture, the development of hidradenitis suppurativa is also associated with some kind of inflammation in the body, says Dr. Sayed.
Typically, your immune system attacks foreign substances it perceives as harmful, such as pathogens like the flu virus, to try to keep you healthy, according to the Cleveland Clinic. During this process, your immune cells trigger an inflammatory response in an attempt to facilitate healing, which can sometimes cause redness, swelling, and pain.
With hidradenitis suppurativa, however, researchers believe your immune system overreacts to mild situations, such as blocked hair follicles, and thus triggers the inflammation process in that general area. Over time, chronic inflammation can cause more abscesses to form2, which can lead to more pain, swelling, and other uncomfortable symptoms, depending on what stage of hidradenitis suppurativa you are in. This is why hidradenitis suppurativa is considered an inflammatory condition. (To be clear, hidradenitis suppurativa is not considered an autoimmune disease, which is when your immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells in your body.)
It is also important to understand that hidradenitis suppurativa is not a disease caused by a person’s individual behaviors and you certainly cannot pass it on to others. For example, you cannot develop the disease due to poor hygiene and you cannot spread it through body contact because it is not contagious, according to the Mayo Clinic. “If better hygiene corrected hidradenitis suppurativa, there would be to be no hidradenitis suppurativa,” says Dr. Sayed.