Clinical Review

Dermatologic Management of Hidradenitis Suppurativa and Impact on Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

Author and Disclosure Information

Hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) is a chronic inflammatory skin disease that most commonly affects women of childbearing age. The symptoms of the disease are managed with a multitude of topical and systemic medications. The course of HS changes during pregnancy, and some women can experience postpartum flares. Thus, it is important to be aware of how pregnancy may alter the treatment plan for women and impact their choice to breastfeed. The following review summarizes medical management for HS and its safety during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Practice Points

  • Some medications used to treat hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) may have teratogenic effects and be contraindicated during breastfeeding.
  • We summarize what treatments are proven to be safe in pregnancy and breastfeeding and highlight the need for more guidelines and safety data for dermatologists to manage their pregnant patients with HS.



Hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) is a chronic inflammatory skin disease associated with hyperandrogenism and is caused by occlusion or rupture of follicular units and inflammation of the apocrine glands.1-3 The disease most commonly affects women (female to male ratio of 3:1) of childbearing age.1,2,4,5 Body areas affected include the axillae and groin, and less commonly the perineum; perianal region; and skin folds, such as gluteal, inframammary, and infraumbilical folds.1,2 Symptoms manifest as painful subcutaneous nodules with possible accompanying purulent drainage, sinus tracts, and/or dermal contractures. Although the pathophysiology is unclear, androgens affect the course of HS during pregnancy by stimulating the affected glands and altering cytokines.1,2,6

During pregnancy, maternal immune function switches from cell-mediated T helper cell (TH1) to humoral TH2 cytokine production. The activity of sebaceous and eccrine glands increases while the activity of apocrine glands decreases, thus changing the inflammatory course of HS during pregnancy.3 Approximately 20% of women with HS experience improvement of symptoms during pregnancy, while the remainder either experience no relief or deterioration of symptoms.1 Improvement in symptoms during pregnancy was found to occur more frequently in those who had worsening symptoms during menses owing to the possible hormonal effect estrogen has on inhibiting TH1 and TH17 proinflammatory cytokines, which promotes an immunosuppressive environment.4

Lactation and breastfeeding abilities may be hindered if a woman has HS affecting the apocrine glands of breast tissue and a symptom flare in the postpartum period. If HS causes notable inflammation in the nipple-areolar complex during pregnancy, the patient may experience difficulties with lactation and milk fistula formation, leading to inability to breastfeed.2 Another reason why mothers with HS may not be able to breastfeed is that the medications required to treat the disease are unsafe if passed to the infant via breast milk. In addition, the teratogenic effects of HS medications may necessitate therapy adjustments in pregnancy.1 Here, we provide a brief overview of the medical management considerations of HS in the setting of pregnancy and the impact on breastfeeding.


Dermatologists prescribe a myriad of topical and systemic medications to ameliorate symptoms of HS. Therapy regimens often are multimodal and include antibiotics, biologics, and immunosuppressants.1,3


First-line antibiotics include clindamycin, metronidazole, tetracyclines, erythromycin, rifampin, dapsone, and fluoroquinolones. Topical clindamycin 1%, metronidazole 0.75%, and erythromycin 2% are used for open or active HS lesions and are all safe to use in pregnancy since there is minimal systemic absorption and minimal excretion into breast milk.1 Topical antimicrobial washes such as benzoyl peroxide and chlorhexidine often are used in combination with systemic medications to treat HS. These washes are safe during pregnancy and lactation, as they have minimal systemic absorption.7

Of these first-line antibiotics, only tetracyclines are contraindicated during pregnancy and lactation, as they are deemed to be in category D by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).1 Aside from tetracyclines, these antibiotics do not cause birth defects and are safe for nursing infants.1,8 Systemic clindamycin is safe during pregnancy and breastfeeding. Systemic metronidazole also is safe for use in pregnant patients but needs to be discontinued 12 to 24 hours prior to breastfeeding, which often prohibits appropriate dosing.1

Systemic Erythromycin—There are several forms of systemic erythromycin, including erythromycin base, erythromycin estolate, erythromycin ethylsuccinate (EES), and erythromycin stearate. Erythromycin estolate is contraindicated in pregnancy because it is associated with reversible maternal hepatoxicity and jaundice.9-11 Erythromycin ethylsuccinate is the preferred form for pregnant patients. Providers should exercise caution when prescribing EES to lactating mothers, as small amounts are still secreted through breast milk.11 Some studies have shown an increased risk for development of infantile hypertrophic pyloric stenosis with systemic erythromycin use, especially if a neonate is exposed in the first 14 days of life. Thus, we recommend withholding EES for 2 weeks after delivery if the patient is breastfeeding. A follow-up study did not find any association between erythromycin and infantile hypertrophic pyloric stenosis; however, the American Academy of Pediatrics still recommends short-term use only of erythromycin if it is to be used in the systemic form.8


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