The general characteristics of patients with hidradenitis suppurativa have not been previously described in detail. Although rare complications of the disease have been described, little is known of the average impact of hidradenitis suppurativa. We have now aimed to describe the general characteristics of the disease and its impact on patients with an established diagnosis of hidradenitis (n = 68) and compare these with those of an unselected general population sample (n = 523). Pierced earlobes were more common in patients than in the controls (P < 0.02). Female patients were younger (P = 0.0002) and better educated (P < 0.0001), and fewer had been pregnant (P = 0.0006). The median number of treatments prior to referral was two, and an average of 2.7 work days/patient per year were lost due to hidradenitis. The self-reported health of patients was significantly inferior to that of the general population (P < 0.001), mainly because of soreness and restriction of movement. Low-grade hidradenitis suppurativa therefore has a considerable impact on the health of patients. Previously implied associations with the disease such as the use of cosmetics or oral contraceptives, menstrual cycle and body mass index (BMI) were not confirmed in our study, although they may influence the course pre-existing disease.