Living with a chronic condition like hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) can be emotionally draining. There is no cure, but finding an expert in HS dermatology can help you navigate life with this condition, including when it comes to managing your symptoms. People with hidradenitis suppurativa get painful lumps underneath their skin that can burst open, according to the Mayo Clinic. Many times, people often go through years of pain without knowing what these lumps are. In fact, individuals with hidradenitis suppurativa usually get diagnosed 7 to 12 years after they first develop symptoms, according to a 2015 paper published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.
“There are different reasons for this, but oftentimes it is because patients initially present to urgent care centers or emergency rooms for the management of isolated painful bumps, which get treated as infections,” Brittany Craiglow, M.D., board-certified dermatologist and associate adjunct professor at Yale School of Medicine, tells SELF. “But typically these lesions are not actually infected and rather represent localized inflammation that is characteristic of hidradenitis suppurativa,” she says.
Finding a doctor who understands hidradenitis suppurativa is vital in getting proper care. In this case, it may be best to look for a dermatologist who specializes in skin diseases, although many different types of doctors, including general practitioners and gynecologists, are trained to recognize the condition. No matter their specialty, here are some signs your physician is a hidradenitis suppurativa expert.
1. They thoroughly explain the condition.
“A new visit with a hidradenitis [suppurativa] patient should take a good 30 to 40 minutes,” Adam Friedman, M.D., interim chair and professor of dermatology at the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences, tells SELF. If you’re in and out of your appointment in 10 minutes, there’s no way your physician could have covered all of the necessary information, he says. A knowledgeable doctor will fully explain the condition, its risk factors (especially those that are relevant to you and your medical history), and medications and other treatment strategies, according to Dr. Friedman.
Expect to chat about where you usually experience flare-ups (hidradenitis suppurativa typically occurs in areas where there is a lot of friction like your armpits, breasts, and groin). Even better, prepare ahead of time by tracking your symptoms. Here are some things to take into consideration: any blackheads in areas where you get flare-ups, how long your bumps last, where your flare-ups occur, and if you notice any pain or swelling before a bump appears, according to the American Academy of Dermatology Association (AAD).
A provider who takes time to really explain the ins and outs of the condition shows that they are not only knowledgeable but also invested in helping you receive proper treatment. If your physician doesn’t explain hidradenitis suppurativa on their own, then you can try to prompt this discussion by simply asking: “What is hidradenitis suppurativa?” or “How can I relieve my symptoms?”
2. They answer your questions confidently—and admit when they don’t have an answer.
Let your physician know what’s on your mind regarding your hidradenitis suppurativa. A knowledgeable doctor should directly answer your more complicated questions or refer you to a provider who can. For example, you may ask about skin cancer screenings since hidradenitis suppurativa can make you more susceptible to squamous cell carcinoma, a form of skin cancer, according to the AAD. It’s a huge positive if your doctor uses research and legitimate sources to back up their answers. (If you’re not sure if the information they’re sharing is experiential from treating patients or research-driven, or both, feel free to ask—a great hidradenitis doctor should be comfortable discussing that.) Further, your doctor shouldn’t rule out hidradenitis suppurativa without explaining their diagnosis.
“I appreciate it when my patients bring me questions that they have from their internet research,” Joslyn Kirby, M.D., board-certified dermatologist, researcher, and vice-chair for education for the department of dermatology at Penn State Health, tells SELF. “If you find you can’t do that with your provider, then that might be a sign that you need to find somebody you can work with, be honest with, and ask hard questions of,” Dr. Kirby says.
3. They don’t just write a prescription.
Knowledgeable physicians should include you in the treatment decision-making process. As Dr. Craiglow explains, “while unfortunately there is no universally effective therapy, there are lots of options for treatment.” Medications, surgery, and lifestyle changes are just a few common methods, according to the Mayo Clinic.