Hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) is a chronic inflammatory skin condition that can cause painful lesions. It is not contagious — being in close contact with someone who has HS does not increase the risk of developing it.

HS most often develops around puberty.

This article explains that HS is not contagious. It also discusses its causes and risk factors and answers some frequently asked questions about HS.

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A 2022 review describes HS as a chronic inflammatory condition. It affects the skin, causing a range of lesions. These can often be painful.

As the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) explains, HS is not a contagious condition.

A person cannot catch HS from someone who already has it. Touching an affected area of skin cannot transmit HS.

In most cases, the cause is unknown. HS could develop as a result of:

  • inherited genetic changes
  • hormones
  • environmental factors

Scientific understanding of this condition is growing. According to 2020 research, several mechanisms may play a role in the development of HS.

The condition begins in the hair follicles and develops where areas of skin rub together or touch. In the early stages of HS, hair follicles accumulate biological waste products.

This causes the formation of cysts, which eventually cause the hair follicles to rupture. As a result, the waste materials enter into surrounding areas of skin, causing inflammation.

This inflammation is what eventually makes lesions form on the skin. It is unclear whether microbial infections also contribute to their formation. Although these infections might not be primary causes of HS, they could potentially worsen the condition.

Risk factors are characteristics that indicate an elevated risk of developing a condition. Risk factors for HS include:

  • Sex: According to NIAMS, HS is more common in females.
  • Race: In the United States, HS affects African Americans more commonly than white Americans.
  • Genetics: There is good evidence that HS has a strong genetic component. Around one-third of people with HS have at least one family member with the condition. Individuals can inherit HS from parents who have certain mutations of gamma-secretase genes.
  • Smoking: Around 70% of people with HS smoke. However, scientists do not know whether more smoking correlates with increased HS severity.
  • Having obesity: There is a higher rate of obesity among people with HS. Moreover, there appears to be a correlation between body mass index (BMI) and HS severity. The greater someone’s BMI, the more severe HS tends to be.

Having obesity can also increase inflammation and worsen HS symptoms. It could also increase skin friction. There is evidence that in people who have HS and obesity, HS symptoms improve with weight loss.

These potential risk factors do not necessarily cause HS, and avoiding them may not reduce a person’s chance of developing HS.

The following are common questions about HS.

Is HS an STI?

NIAMS notes that HS can cause pus-filled bumps on the skin, firm bumps underneath the skin, and open wounds that do not heal easily. It also commonly develops around the groin and genitals.

People may notice the open wounds and bumps and be concerned that they have contracted a sexually transmitted infection (STI). However, it is important to note that HS is not an STI and does not transmit to others.

Does poor hygiene cause HS?

As NIAMS explains, HS does not result from poor hygiene.

Does HS ever go away?

There is no known cure for HS. Although the condition does not go away, some treatments can help manage symptoms.

HS is a chronic condition that causes skin lesions. It arises due to inflammation within the skin, which stems from blocked hair follicles. Hair follicles build up waste materials before rupturing. The resulting inflammation leads to skin lesions.

There is no way to catch HS from someone else. HS is not contagious, so physical contact with someone who has HS is not a risk factor for this condition.

African Americans and females have an increased risk of developing HS. The same is true of people with a family history of HS.

Additionally, certain genetic mutations appear to make HS more likely. Some risk factors for HS, such as having obesity, could worsen its symptoms.