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Questions to Ask a Dermatologist About HS

Talking to your dermatologist is key to treating hidradenitis suppurativa (HS). Here are key questions to discuss.

Medically reviewed in April 2021

Hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) is an inflammatory skin disorder that causes breakouts of lesions. These lesions:

  • Can be itchy and painful
  • Can cause skin irritation and excessive sweating
  • Can look like lumps, boils, or pimples
  • Can rupture and leak a foul-smelling discharge
  • Can also lead to scarring, and “tunnelling” in the skin
  • Can vary in severity from person to person

HS can be extremely distressing, especially considering the areas of the body where symptoms typically occur—places where skin rubs against skin, such as the armpits, under the breasts, the buttocks, the inner thighs, and the groin.

This can also make symptoms embarrassing and uncomfortable to talk about. However, it’s important to be as honest as possible with your dermatologist. Being honest about symptoms and how HS is impacting your life helps your healthcare provider give you the best care possible.

If you’re not sure where to begin when talking to your healthcare provider, the questions below can help you get started.

Questions about symptoms
As with any skin condition, your healthcare provider will need you to describe your symptoms and answer questions—including how long you have had symptoms and if there have been any changes in symptoms. You should also be prepared for your healthcare provider to examine the areas of the skin that are affected.

Some questions you may want to ask about symptoms:

  • Can you explain what causes HS symptoms?
  • What stage would you use to describe my symptoms? HS can be categorized as stage 1 (mild), stage 2 (moderate), or stage 3 (severe).
  • Can the severity of HS change over time?
  • What can I do to prevent HS flare-ups?
  • What should I do if I experience a change in symptoms?
  • Does HS put me at risk for other health conditions? Are there other symptoms I should be watching out for? Are there any other healthcare providers I need to see?

Questions about treatment
Your dermatologist will also want to know if you’ve tried treatments for HS before, and how effective those treatments were.

  • What treatment options do you recommend?
  • What can I do to ease pain and itching?
  • How long will it be before I see results from this treatment?
  • Can the treatment cause side effects?
  • If the treatment doesn’t work, what are the next steps? What are the other treatment options?
  • Can surgery help improve the appearance of lumps and scars?

Questions about quality of life
HS can have a significant negative impact on a person’s quality of life, causing feelings of distress, stigma, shame, and embarrassment. Addressing these impacts is an important aspect of treatment.

  • Are there any lifestyle changes that might help my HS?
  • Can certain types of clothing aggravate symptoms? What types of clothing should I avoid?
  • What can I do if I am struggling with negative thoughts or emotions (such as shame or embarrassment over symptoms)?
  • How can I talk to my partner about HS?
  • What do I do if HS begins to impact my mobility (lifting arms, sitting, walking, etc.)?

Sources:
HS Foundation. "What is Hidradenitis Suppurativa?"
American Academy of Family Physicians. "Patient Education: Hidradenitis Suppurativa."
American Academy of Dermatology Association. "Hidradenitis Suppurativa: Signs and Symptoms."
Mayo Clinic. "Hidradenitis Suppurativa."
Debra Holly Ford and H. Randolph Bailey. "Pilonidal Disease and Hidradenitis Suppurativa." Colorectal Surgery, 2013. Chapter 10.
Elsevier Patient Education. "Hidradenitis Suppurativa."
Fred F. Ferri. "Hidradenitis Suppurativa." Ferri's Clinical Advisor 2021.
HS Foundation. "Comorbidities and Hidradenitis Suppurativa."
J. Mac Mahon, S. Kirthi, et al. "An Update on Health-Related Quality of Life and Patient-Reported Outcomes in Hidradenitis Suppurativa." Patient Related Outcome Measures, 2020. Vol. 11.
T.Y. Loh. A.J. Hendricks, J.L. Hsiao, V.Y. Shi. "Undergarment and Fabric Selection in the Management of Hidradenitis Suppurativa." Dermatology, 2021. Vol. 237.
Nipa Shah. "Hidradenitis Suppurativa: A Treatment Challenge." American Family Physician, 2005. Vol. 72, No. 8.

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