Boiling Points


This 37-year-old woman began developing “boils” under both arms at age 12. Over the years, the lesions have become more numerous and bothersome. They are often painful and large and are capable of bursting on their own, releasing purulent material. Occasionally, similar lesions appear under her breasts and in the groin. The problem seems to wax and wane with her menstrual cycle. Family history reveals that both her mother and one of her sisters have had the same problem, again starting around the time of menarche.

Whenever the patient seeks medical care, usually at the emergency department, the diagnosis is always the same: boils. Normally, the prescribed treatment includes incision, drainage, and packing of the largest lesions, followed by 2 weeks of oral antibiotics. While the problem generally improves after treatment, it invariably returns.

Her health is decent overall. However, she has been overweight for years and has been smoking since she was 14.

Boiling Points

The patient’s left axilla shows ropy, hypertrophic scars, many comedones, and several fluctuant cystic subcutaneous masses. There is no frank erythema, although the patient indicates there often is.

No such changes are seen on examination of her right axilla. Instead, there is a slender 12-cm linear scar running across the axillary fold. Upon questioning, the patient reports that several years ago, a surgeon removed three-fourths of the skin and subcutaneous tissue from this area. This procedure cured the “boils” on her right arm, but it also left her with chronic lymphedema in that extremity.

Boiling Points

Other intertriginous areas are free of significant changes.

What’s the diagnosis?


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