A pilonidal cyst is a condition that originates in the skin at the base of the spine or upper gluteal crease. It is frequently painful and can take a very long time to form. Treating it can be very difficult once it becomes symptomatic. This is because it tends to reoccur – not to mention its location, which is painful and hard to reach. If you know what to look for, though, and get early treatment, then managing a pilonidal cyst is easy. Here’s what to know about pilonidal cysts, what to look for, and what you can expect from treatment with our team of colorectal experts.
It is not exactly known why pilonidal cysts occur. Nevertheless, experts think one of the reasons can be hair – thus, people who have more hair in the area tend to experience pilonidal cysts. Furthermore, pilonidal cysts more often affect younger people. This makes experts believe that hormone changes around puberty can be another cause.
When friction and pressure from your clothes press a hair back into your skin, your body will begin to react in much the same way as if you have a splinter. This triggers the immune system to form a cyst around what it believes to be a foreign body. This eventually becomes a pilonidal cyst and begins to show symptoms.
It is important to note that a cyst does not always pose a major problem. However, it can become infected. Some of our modern understanding of pilonidal cysts came from World War II where over 80,000 soldiers required hospitalization because of pilonidal cysts. It is believed that these pilonidal cysts formed because of the friction and pressure they experienced from their rough-riding army jeeps.
This occurrence became so common that, today, it is commonly called “jeep drivers’ disease”. Although most cysts become self-limiting eventually, the chronic nature can lead to more serious issues. One of these is the heightened risk of developing skin cancer at the location of chronic irritation.
Given the typical location of a pilonidal cyst, it is not always easy to notice it until it starts to fully develop. As it starts to advance, you are likely to notice the following:
- Tenderness near the base of the spine, just above the buttocks. You are likely to notice this symptom when you sit and exert pressure on the affected area.
- Low-grade fever, which indicates that the cyst is infected. This symptom is less common, though.
- Over time, pain and pressure start to develop at the location.
- Pus and/or bloody discharge start to come from at least one hole in the skin.
- A red and swollen bump starts to form at the location of the cyst.
A pilonidal cyst is like other boils and abscesses in that you cannot rely on antibiotics alone to treat it. It’s best to consult a colorectal expert who can perform treatments like draining and cleaning. Depending on the cyst’s size and shape, your colorectal expert may leave the cyst site open, so healing can occur from inside, or choose to close the site using stitches. While closing the wound ensures faster healing, it may risk recurrence at the site. Your colorectal expert will discuss your best options during an appointment.
If you have developed a pilonidal cyst or are worried about symptoms, it’s best to meet with our team at Arizona Colorectal Experts today. To schedule an appointment, give us a call or schedule your appointment online.