Aim: To investigate aspects of the natural history of hidradenitis.
Background: The natural history of hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) is not well known. There is incomplete published data on the average age of disease onset, progression of the disease, average monthly incidence and duration of boils, and factors that relieve or exacerbate disease symptoms.
Study design: Questionnaire-based survey among HS patients identified from hospital records of three hospitals in Nottinghamshire, UK.
Results: One hundred and ten of 156 questionnaires (70.5%) were returned, 93 from females and 17 from males. The average patient's age was 40.1 years and the average reported age of disease onset was 21.8 years. At the time of the survey patients had suffered an average disease duration of 18.8 years. Most patients (98 of 110) still had experienced active disease within the past year. There was some evidence that in women the condition has a tendency to ease or subside after the menopause. Forty-four per cent of women felt that their condition was aggravated by menstruation. Thirty-eight per cent of patients gave a positive family history of the disorder. The average duration of painful boils was 6.9 days. In addition, 62% of patients acknowledged the presence of permanently painful boils that failed to subside. Patients developed a median of two boils per month. Factors that could aggravate the condition were primarily sweating or heat, stress or fatigue and tight clothing or friction. Factors that could improve the condition consisted largely of a variety of medical treatments and a number of life-style measures, such as swimming or baths. Twenty-four per cent of patients had failed to find anything at all to help their condition, despite an average disease duration of almost 19 years.
Conclusions: The study highlights several of the factors that make HS one of the most distressing dermatological diseases, such as the average monthly incidence of painful lesions, their average duration and the chronicity of the disease. It seems striking that the mean duration of an HS boil (6.9 days) roughly equals the duration of an average course of antibiotics. The postulated response of HS to oral antibiotics may thus simply have its explanation in the natural history of the condition itself.