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Pilonidal sinus disease

Pilonidal sinus disease is an inflammatory condition involving the hair follicles that can occur anywhere along the crease between the buttocks, which runs from the bone at the bottom of the spine (sacrum) to the anus. The disease is benign and has no association with cancer.

Pilonidal dimple may appear as:

  • A pilonidal abscess, in which the hair follicle becomes infected and pus collects in the fat tissue
  • A pilonidal cyst, in which a cyst or hole forms if there has been an abscess for a long time
  • A pilonidal sinus, in which a tract grows under the skin or deeper from the hair follicle
  • A small pit or pore in the skin that contains dark spots or hair

Considerations

Symptoms may include:

  • Pus draining to a small pit in the skin
  • Tenderness over the area after you are active or sit for a period of time
  • Warm, tender, swollen area near the tailbone
  • Fever (rare)

There may be no symptoms other than a small dent (pit) in the skin in the crease between the buttocks.

Causes

The cause of pilonidal disease is not clear. It is thought to be caused by hair growing into the skin in the crease between the buttocks.

This problem is more likely to occur in people who:

  • Are obese
  • Experience trauma or irritation in the area
  • Have excess body hair, particularly coarse, curly hair

Home Care

Wash normally and pat dry. Use a soft bristle scrub brush to prevent the hairs from becoming ingrown. Keep the hairs in this region short (shaving, laser, depilatory) which may decrease the risk of flare-ups and recurrence.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if you notice any of the following around the pilonidal cyst:

  • Drainage of pus
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Tenderness

What to Expect at Your Office Visit

You will be asked for your medical history and given a physical examination. Sometimes you may be asked for the following information:

  • Has there been any change in the appearance of the pilonidal sinus disease?
  • Has there been any drainage from the area?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?

Pilonidal disease that causes no symptoms does not need to be treated.

A pilonidal abscess may be opened, drained, and packed with gauze. Antibiotics may be used if there is an infection spreading in the skin or you also have another, more severe illness.

Other surgeries that may be needed include:

Alternative Names

Pilonidal abscess; Pilonidal sinus; Pilonidal cyst; Pilonidal disease

References

Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM. Surgical conditions of the anus and rectum. In: Kliegman RM, St. Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 371.

Sell NM, Francone TD. Management of pilonidal disease. In: Cameron AM, Cameron JL, eds. Current Surgical Therapy. 13th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:335-341.

Surrell JA. Pilonidal cyst and abscess: current management. In: Fowler GC, ed. Pfenninger and Fowler's Procedures for Primary Care. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 31.

Review Date 9/15/2019

Updated by: Debra G. Wechter, MD, FACS, general surgery practice specializing in breast cancer, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.