Pilonidal disease is a chronic skin infection in the crease of the buttocks near the coccyx (tailbone). It is more common in men than women and most often occurs between puberty and age 40. Obesity and thick, stiff body hair make people more prone to pilonidal disease.
Hairs often grow in the cleft between the buttocks. These hair follicles can become infected. Further, hair can be drawn into these abscesses worsening the problem.
Symptoms can vary from very mild to severe. The symptoms may include:
- Small dimple
- Large painful mass
- Clear, cloudy or bloody fluid drainage from affected area
- If infected, the area becomes red and tender and the drainage (pus) smells foul
- If infected, may have fever, nausea or feel ill
Nearly all patients have an acute abscess episode (the area is swollen, tender and pus may drain from it). After the abscess goes away, either by itself or with medical care, many patients develop a pilonidal sinus. The sinus is a cavity below the skin surface that connects to the surface through one or more small openings. Some sinus tracts may resolve on their own, however, most patients need minor surgery to remove them.
Diagnosis is typically confirmed by a physician examining the buttock area.
Treatment depends on the disease pattern. The primary treatment for an acute abscess is drainage. An incision is made that allows pus to drain, reducing inflammation and pain. This procedure can usually be done in a physician’s office under local anesthesia.
Complex or recurring infections must be treated surgically, either through excision or unroofing the sinuses. Unroofing the sinuses, as shown in Figure 2, involves opening up the abscess and tracts and trimming the edges of skin.
The dashed line indicates the area to be opened or unroofed. The dashed line in drawing C shows the entire inflamed tissue that will be removed.
Larger, open operations often result in better outcomes, although healing takes longer. Closure with flaps has a greater risk of infection, but may be required in some patients. Your colon and rectal surgeon will discuss all the options and help you choose the most appropriate surgery.
When the wound is closed, it must be kept clean and dry until the skin is fully healed. If the wound is left open, dressings or packing are used to help remove secretions and allow the area to heal from the bottom up.
After healing, the skin in the buttocks crease must be kept clean and free of hair. It is necessary to shave or use a hair removal agent every 2 or 3 weeks until the age of 30. After that age, hair shafts thin out and soften and the depth of the buttock cleft lessens. Pilonidal disease can be a chronic, recurring condition so it is important to follow your physician’s postsurgical care instructions.
WHAT IS A COLON AND RECTAL SURGEON?
Colon and rectal surgeons are experts in the surgical and non-surgical treatment of diseases of the colon, rectum and anus. They have completed advanced surgical training in the treatment of these diseases as well as full general surgical training. Board-certified colon and rectal surgeons complete residencies in general surgery and colon and rectal surgery, and pass intensive examinations conducted by the American Board of Surgery and the American Board of Colon and Rectal Surgery. They are well-versed in the treatment of both benign and malignant diseases of the colon, rectum and anus and are able to perform routine screening examinations and surgically treat conditions if indicated to do so.
The American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons is dedicated to ensuring high-quality patient care by advancing the science, prevention and management of disorders and diseases of the colon, rectum and anus. These brochures are inclusive but not prescriptive. Their purpose is to provide information on diseases and processes, rather than dictate a specific form of treatment. They are intended for the use of all practitioners, health care workers and patients who desire information about the management of the conditions addressed. It should be recognized that these brochures should not be deemed inclusive of all proper methods of care or exclusive of methods of care reasonably directed to obtain the same results. The ultimate judgment regarding the propriety of any specific procedure must be made by the physician in light of all the circumstances presented by the individual patient.