The delay in the diagnosis of hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) often ranges from 7 to 10 years, which results in increased morbidity and disease severity, and an extended impact on quality of life, Robert G. Micheletti, MD, said in a presentation at MedscapeLive’s annual Las Vegas Dermatology Seminar.

Robert G. Micheletti, MD, department of dermatology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

Dr. Robert G. Micheletti

For patients with HS, “the quality-of-life impact is profound, greater than any other systematically studied dermatologic condition,” said Dr. Micheletti, associate professor of dermatology at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylavnia, and chief of hospital dermatology, and chief of dermatology at Pennsylvania Hospital, Philadelphia.

Two key aspects of quality of life that affect HS patients are sexual health and overall pain, he said. The female-to-male ratio of HS is approximately 3:1, and data show that approximately 40% of female HS patients experience fertility issues and have unaddressed questions about HS and pregnancy, said Dr. Micheletti. Additionally, data from a systematic review showed that 50%-60% of patients with HS reported sexual dysfunction. Impaired sexual function is also associated with both overall impaired quality of life ratings and the presence of mood disorders, he noted.

Hidradenitis suppurativa lesions Wikimedia Commons/Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

Hidradenitis suppurativa lesions

Pain also has a significant impact on quality of life for HS patients. When these patients present in an emergency department, 70% report severe pain, and approximately 60% receive opioids, said Dr. Micheletti.

Data from a 2021 study showed that HS patients are significantly more likely to receive opioids compared with controls, and also more likely to be diagnosed with opioid use disorder than controls, especially if they are seen by nondermatologists, he noted.

For acute pain, Dr. Micheletti recommended starting with acetaminophen 500 mg every 4 to 6 hours as needed, and topical nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). “It still makes sense to do topical care,” said Dr. Micheletti, but he added that he also prescribes medications for anxiety for these patients.

Patients with increased pain severity or refractory disease may benefit from systemic NSAIDs, or intralesional triamcinolone, he noted. Incision and draining of abscesses may provide temporary symptomatic relief, but keep in mind that lesions will recur, he noted.

For the most severe cases, Dr. Micheletti advised adding tramadol as a first-line opioid, or another short-acting opioid for breakthrough pain.

To manage patients with HS who have chronic pain, Dr. Micheletti recommended starting with HS disease–directed therapy, but also screening for pain severity and psychological comorbidities.

His strategies in these cases include nonpharmacological pain management in the form of physical therapy, wound care, and behavioral health. His algorithm for nociceptive pain is NSAIDs with or without acetaminophen; duloxetine or nortriptyline are other options. For neuropathic pain, gabapentin and/or duloxetine are top choices, but pregabalin, venlafaxine, and nortriptyline are on the list as well.

Topical NSAIDs or topical lidocaine may serve as add-ons to systemic therapy in more severe cases, or as first-line therapy for milder chronic pain, Dr. Micheletti noted. Patients who have failed treatment with at least two pharmacologic agents, suffer medically refractory HS with debilitating pain, or use opioids on an ongoing basis should be referred to a pain management specialist, he said.

Don’t forget lifestyle

Although data on the impact of diet on patients with HS are limited, “we know anecdotally that dairy and refined carbohydrates are associated with exacerbations,” said Dr. Micheletti.

In addition, many patients use complementary medicine “and they aren’t always telling us,” he emphasized. Smoking is prevalent among patients with HS, and is a risk factor for the disease in general, and for more severe and refractory disease, he added. Consequently, screening for tobacco smoking is recommended for patients with HS not only because of the impact on disease, but because it is a potentially modifiable cardiovascular risk factor, he explained.

Consider comorbidities

Cardiovascular disease is among several comorbidities associated with HS, said Dr. Micheletti. HS foundations in the United States and Canada recently published evidence-based recommendations for comorbidity screening. The recommendations included screening for 19 specific comorbidities: acne, dissecting cellulitis, pilonidal disease, pyoderma gangrenosum, depression, anxiety, suicide, smoking, substance abuse, polycystic ovary syndrome, obesity, dyslipidemia, diabetes mellitus, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, inflammatory bowel disease, spondyloarthritis, and sexual dysfunction.

Dr. Micheletti highlighted cardiovascular comorbidities, and noted the association between HS and modifiable cardiovascular risk factors: smoking, obesity, diabetes mellitus, and dyslipidemia. “HS is also independently associated with cardiovascular disease leading to myocardial infarction, stroke, cardiovascular-associated death, and all-cause mortality compared to controls,” he said. Studies show an incidence rate ratio of 1.53 for major adverse cardiovascular events in patients with HS compared with controls, with the highest relative risk among those aged 18-29 years, he added.

Medical management

Depending on the patient, medical management of HS may involve antibiotics, hormonal agents, and biologics, said Dr. Micheletti. Some of the most commonly used antibiotic regimens for HS are those recommended in treatment guidelines, including doxycycline and a clindamycin/rifampin combination, he said. However, the use of trimethoprim-sulfamethoxazole or ciprofloxacin has been associated with increased antibiotic resistance and is not supported by available evidence, he noted.

Hormonal therapies may help some women with HS, said Dr. Micheletti. Options include spironolactone, metformin, or estrogen-containing hormonal contraceptives, he said.

When it comes to biologics, only 33% of HS patients meet criteria for their use (Hurley stage II or III, moderate or severe HS), he noted. However, research suggests “a huge gap” in the use of anti-TNF therapy even among patients for whom it is recommended, he said.

Of the TNF-alpha inhibitors, data on adalimumab, which is FDA-approved for HS, are the most recent. Adalimumab “is our gold standard biologic and our gateway biologic, for HS at this time,” Dr. Micheletti said.

However, those who respond to adalimumab “can continue to do better, but they can wax and wane and flare,” he cautioned. Infliximab, while not approved for HS, has been studied in patients with HS and is prescribed by some providers. Although no comparative studies have been done for infliximab versus adalimumab, “anecdotally, response to infliximab tends to be better, and it is the most effective biologic in common use for severe HS,” he noted.

Dr. Micheletti’s top treatment recommendations for using biologics start with considering biosimilars. Most patients on biosimilars do fine, but some patients who previously responded to infliximab will unpredictably lose efficacy or have reactions when switched to a biosimilar, he said.

Patients on biologics also may experience waning efficacy in the wake of an immune response stimulated by foreign antibodies, said Dr. Micheletti. “Anti-drug antibody formation is more likely to occur when treatment is interrupted,” he noted. Minimize the risk of antibody formation by paying attention to adherence issues and dosing frequency, he advised.

If patients fail both adalimumab and infliximab, Dr. Micheletti tells them not to lose hope, and that treatment is a trial-and-error process that may involve more than one therapy. Other biologics in active use for HS include ustekinumab, anakinra, secukinumab, brodalumab, golimumab, and JAK inhibitors, any of which might be effective in any given patient, he said.

Surgical solutions

For HS patients with chronic, recurring inflammation and drainage associated with a sinus tract, surgical deroofing may the best treatment option, Dr. Micheletti said. “Deroofing involves the use of a probe to trace the extent of the subcutaneous tract, followed by incision and removal of the tract ‘roof,’ ’’ he explained. The deroofing procedure involves local anesthesia and has a low morbidity rate, as well as a low recurrence rate and high levels of patient satisfaction, he said.

“The acute role for surgery is to remove active foci of inflammation and relieve pain,” which is achieved more effectively with deroofing, said Dr. Micheletti. By contrast, incision and drainage is associated with an almost 100% recurrence rate, he added.

When planning elective surgery for HS, Dr. Micheletti noted that holding infliximab for less than 4 weeks does not affect postoperative infection rates in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, and a recent randomized, controlled trial showed that adalimumab can be continued safely through HS surgeries.

In fact, “continuing TNF inhibitors through elective surgery does not increase infection risk and results in better disease control,” and dermatologists should work with surgery to balance infection and disease flare concerns in HS patients, he said.

Dr. Micheletti disclosed serving as a consultant or advisor for Adaptimmune and Vertex, and research funding from Amgen and Cabaletta Bio. MedscapeLive and this news organization are owned by the same parent company.