Original Research

Racial Disparities in Hidradenitis Suppurativa–Related Pain: A Cross-sectional Analysis

Author and Disclosure Information

Racial disparities in pain management for chronic diseases persist in the United States. However, no research exists assessing racial disparities in related pain. This study aimed to identify racial differences in hidradenitis suppurativa (HS)–related pain scores. Additionally, we characterized patient satisfaction with pain management. Further research is needed to evaluate if systemic or health care provider biases contribute to racial differences in HS-related pain management.

Practice Points

  • Racial disparities exist in the management of hidradenitis suppurativa (HS)–related pain.
  • Black/African American patients with HS are 4 times more likely to experience very severe pain than patients of other races or ethnicities.
  • Lower income levels, higher HS disease severity, and a history of prescription pain medication use are all independent risk factors for very severe pain in patients with HS.



Hidradenitis suppurativa (HS), a chronic inflammatory disease that is characterized by tender inflamed nodules of the skin and subcutaneous tissue, disproportionately affects postpubertal females as well as Black/African American individuals. The nodules can rupture, form sinus tracts, and scar. 1 Hidradenitis suppurativa has been associated with cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes mellitus, polycystic ovary syndrome, depression, suicide, and substance use disorders. Because of the symptom burden and associated conditions, HS can be a painful and distressing disease that substantially impairs the quality of life for individuals with this condition. 2

Pain is a commonly reported symptom in HS that often goes untreated. Furthermore, HS-related pain is complex due to the involvement of different pain types that require various treatment modalities.3 According to Savage et al,4 recognizing whether HS-related pain is acute, chronic, neuropathic, or nociceptive is vital in establishing a framework for an effective pain management scheme. Currently, such established multimodal pain management strategies in dermatology do not exist. In 2021, dermatology-specific pain management strategies proposed the use of a multimodal regimen to address the multifaceted nature of HS-related pain.4 However, these strategies failed to recognize the systemic racial and ethnic biases in the US health care system that undermine pain management care for minority groups.5,6 One approach to combatting racial disparities in pain management is determining average pain levels across racial groups.7 This study sought to compare HS-related pain scores by racial groups. Furthermore, we assessed differences in perception of patients’ respective pain management regimens by race. We hypothesized that the average HS-related pain intensities and pain management would differ between self-reported racial groups.


This cross-sectional study took place over 5 months (August through December 2021). A survey was emailed to 2198 adult patients with HS in the University of Alabama Health System. The survey consisted of demographic and general questions about a patient’s HS. Pain scores were captured using the numeric rating scale (NRS), a measurement tool for pain intensity on a scale from 0 to 10. 8 Age at diagnosis, gender, education level, household income, total body areas affected by HS, disease severity (categorized as mild, moderate, and severe), comorbidities including mood disorders, tobacco use, and HS and HS-related pain medication regimens also were collected. Additionally, participants were asked about their level of agreement with the following statements: “I am satisfied with how my pain related to HS is being managed by my doctors” and “My pain related to HS is under control.” The level of agreement was measured using a 5-point Likert scale, with responses ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree. All data included in the analysis were self-reported. The study received institutional review board approval for the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Statistical Analysis—Descriptive statistics were used to assess statistical differences in patient characteristics of Black/African American participants compared to other participants, including White, Asian, and Hispanic/Latino participants. Thirteen participants were excluded from the final analysis: 2 participants were missing data, and 11 biracial participants were excluded due to overlapping White and Black/African American races that may have confounded the analysis. Categorical variables were reported as frequencies and percentages, and χ2 and Fisher exact tests, when necessary, were used to test for statistically significant differences. Continuous variables were summarized with means and standard deviations, and a t test was used for statistically significant differences.

Logistic regression was performed to assess the relationship between race and pain after adjusting for confounding variables such as obesity, current tobacco use, self-reported HS severity, and the presence of comorbidities. A total of 204 patient records were included in the analysis, of which 70 (34.3%) had a pain score of 8 or higher, which indicates very severe pain intensity levels on the NRS,8 and were selected as a cut point based on the distribution of responses. For this cross-sectional cohort, our approach was to compare characteristics of those classified with a top score of 8 or higher (n=70) vs a top score of 0 to 7 (n=134)(cases vs noncases). Statistical analyses were performed using JMP Pro 16 (JMP Statistical Discovery LLC) at an α=.05 significance level; logistic regression was performed using SPSS Statistics (IBM). For the logistic regression, we grouped patient race into 2 categories: Black/African American and Other, which included White, Asian, and Hispanic/Latino participants.

Crude and adjusted multivariable logistic regression analyses were used to calculate prevalence odds ratios with 95% confidence intervals. Covariate inclusion in the multivariable logistic regression was based on a priori hypothesis/knowledge and was meant to estimate the independent effect of race after adjustment for income, HS severity, and history of prescription pain medication use. Other variables, including tobacco use, obesity, mood disorders, and current HS treatments, were all individually tested in the multivariate analysis and did not significantly impact the odds ratio for high pain. Statistical adjustment slightly decreased (19%) the magnitude between crude and adjusted prevalence odds ratios for the association between Black/African American race and high pain score.


Survey Demographics —The final analysis included 204 survey respondents. Most respondents were Black/African American (58.82%), and nearly all were female (89.71%)(Table 1). The mean age (SD) of respondents was 37.37 (11.29) years (range, 19-70 years). Many respondents reported having completed some college (36.27%) or receiving a bachelor’s degree (19.12%). Of patients who were not Black/African American, 10.71% had higher than a master’s degree, whereas no Black/African American patients held a degree higher than a master’s ( P = .0052). Additionally, more Black/African American respondents (35.83%) reported an annual household income level of less than $25,000 compared with respondents who were not Black/African American (19.05%, P = .0001). Most respondents rated the severity of their HS as moderate or severe (46.57% and 41.67%, respectively), and there was no significant difference in reported severity of HS between racial groups ( P = .5395).

Study Sample Characteristics by Race
Study Sample Characteristics by Race


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