A Comparison of Alternative Medicine Users and Non-Users in Patients With Hidradenitis Suppurativa

October 2021 | Volume 20 | Issue 10 | Original Article | 1072 | Copyright © October 2021

Published online September 30, 2021

Jordan Lane BS BSN,a Veronica Emmerich BA,a Aditi Senthilnathan MD,a Sree S. Kolli MD,b Leah A. Cardwell MD,a Irma M. Richardson MHA,a Steven R. Feldman MD PhDa,c,d,e, Rita O. Pichardo MDa

aCenter for Dermatology Research, Department of Dermatology, Wake Forest School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, NC
bTransitional Year Residency, Henry Ford Hospital, Detroit, MI
cDepartment of Pathology, Wake Forest School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, NC
dDepartment of Social Sciences & Health Policy, Wake Forest School of Medicine, Winston- Salem, NC
eDepartment of Dermatology, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark

Background: Hidradenitis suppurativa patients often seek non-prescription therapies.
Objective: To determine the prevalence of alternative medicine use and characterize the differences between patients who report using alternative medications versus those who do not.
Methods: We surveyed 67 patients with hidradenitis suppurativa regarding demographics, alternative medicine use, disease severity, and quality of life.
Results: 25 (37.2%) of the HS subjects reported alternative medicine use. Alternative medicine users tended to be younger (36.7 vs 40.8 years), have a shorter time since diagnosis (12.6 vs14.6 years), and reported worse quality of life (14.1 vs 11.0) than non-users. These differences were not statistically significant.
Limitations: Limitations included a small sample size.
Conclusion: Alternative medicine use among patients with hidradenitis is common regardless of disease severity; even mild disease may drive patients to seek alternative treatment.

J Drugs Dermatol. 2021;20(10):1072-1074. doi:10.36849/JDD.6046


Hidradenitis suppurativa (HS) is an inflammatory, debilitating, skin follicular disease that usually presents after puberty with painful, deep-seated, inflamed lesions in the apocrine gland-bearing areas of the body, most commonly in the axillary, inguinal, and anogenital areas.1 HS decreases patients’ quality of life, and patients with HS are at increased risk for psychiatric comorbidities, substance use disorders, and suicide completion.2 There are a variety of HS treatments available; however, their efficacy is limited.3

Treatment of HS is guided by disease severity and includes topical antibiotics, oral antibiotics, biologic medications, and procedures.4 Nevertheless, evidence from randomized controlled trials is limited for most of these interventions,5 and individuals’ responses to first-line treatment varies based upon patient factors such as age and smoking status.6 In a study of 139 patients with HS, a clinical response was achieved by 60% of patients treated with doxycycline and 46% of patients treated with rifampicin-clindamycin, both of which are firstline systemic medications.7 Another factor that may impact patient’s use of conventional medicine is out-of-pocket cost.8

Adalimumab, a TNF-alpha inhibitor frequently used to treat immune-mediated diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, is also an acceptable long term therapy for moderate to severe HS.9 In 2019, the projected annual out-of-pocket cost for adalimumab prescribed to patients with rheumatoid arthritis was $5,168, an amount that may be unacceptably high for some patients.10

A limited response to first-line treatments and the high cost of medication may leave HS patients seeking options other than conventional medicine. One such option is alternative medicine; the lifetime prevalence of complementary or alternative medicine (AM) use in dermatologic patients is between 35 to 69%.11 Patients often seek non-prescription therapies due to perceived prescription failure.12 In a survey of 303 patients with HS, 255 (84.2%) reported AM use, most commonly citing reasons of “frustration with conventional treatment” and a desire to try “new” or “more natural” treatments.13 Of the 255 patients who reported AM use, 166 reported at least mild success.13 Despite a high rate of AM use among patients with HS, few studies have characterized these patients or explored factors that may contribute to their use of alternative therapies.