Pilonidal Cyst and Sinus

Pilonidal Cyst and Sinus

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Pilonidal disease is described back as far as 1833, when Mayo described a hair-containing cyst located just below the coccyx (see the image below). Hodge coined the term “pilonidal” from its Latin origins in 1880, and, today, pilonidal disease describes a spectrum of clinical presentations, ranging from asymptomatic hair-containing cysts and sinuses to large symptomatic abscesses of the sacrococcygeal region that have some tendency to recur. [1, 2]

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, pilonidal disease was studied on an embryologic basis by many authors who considered it to be of congenital origin. Excision of the lesion was thought to be fundamental to removing all embryologic remnants. This was the prevailing thought process well into the 20th century, when pilonidal disease gained prominence and practical importance amongst World War II soldiers with a high incidence of the disease, so much so it came to be known as Jeep disease. According to US Army publications, nearly 80,000 US soldiers were admitted and treated at US Army Hospitals between the years 1941-1945. Prompt return of soldiers to the field was important, and, during that time, several articles proposed a variety of surgical treatments aimed at this goal.

After the war, Patey and Scarf hypothesized the origin of pilonidal disease was acquired by penetration of hair into the subcutaneous tissue with consequent granulomatous reaction, basing this theory on the high incidence of recurrence, as well as occurrence of disease in other areas of the body, such as the hands of a barber or sheep shearer. Other authors have followed this emphasis of hair as disease origin, and, in fact, an acquired etiology of the disease is now the prevailing theory in the medical world. [3]

Incidence of pilonidal disease is about 26 per 100,000 population. Pilonidal disease occurs predominantly in males, at a ratio of about 3-4:1. It occurs predominantly in white patients, typically in the late teens to early twenties, decreasing after age 25 and rarely occurs after age 45. [1, 3] One publication listed local irritation to the SC site, positive family history of pilonidal disease (PD), sedentary life style, and obesity as occurring in notable percentages of patients with PD (all factors between 34-50% occurrence in PD). [4]

It has been postulated that hair penetrates into the subcutaneous tissues through dilated hair follicles, which is thought to occur particularly in late adolescence, though follicles are not found in the walls of cysts. Upon sitting or bending, hair follicles can break and open a pit. Debris may collect in this pit, followed by development of a sinus with a short tract, with a not clearly understood suction mechanism involving local anatomy, eventually leading to further penetration of the hair into the subcutaneous tissue. [5, 3] This sinus tends to extend cephalad, likely owing to mechanical forces involved in sitting or bending. [5] A foreign body-type reaction may then lead to formation of an abscess. If given the opportunity to drain spontaneously, this may act as a portal of further invasion and eventually formation of a foreign body granuloma. Infection may result in abscess formation.

Microscopically, the sinus where the hair enters is lined with stratified squamous epithelium with slight cornification. Additional sinuses are frequent. Cyst cavities are lined with chronic granulation tissue and may contain hair, epithelial debris, and young granulation tissue. Cutaneous appendages are not seen in the wall of cysts, meaning the cysts lack epithelial lining, unlike the sinus. [5] Cellular infiltration consists of PMNs, lymphocytes, and plasma cells in varying proportions. Foreign body giant cells in association with dead hairs are a frequent finding.

In summary, 3 pieces are instrumental in this process: (1) the invader, hair; (2) the force, causing hair penetration; and (3) the vulnerability of the skin. [1, 3, 6] This process has been well characterized by Patey and Scarff as well as a number of other authors from the second half of the 20th century through today.

United States

Pilonidal disease affects approximately 26 per 100,000 people.


In England in 2000-2001, a total of 11,534 admissions were recorded for pilonidal disease. The mean hospital stay was 4.3 days.

Pilonidal disease in the general population has a male preponderance. It occurs in the ratio of 3 or 4:1. In children, however, the ratio is the opposite occurring in 4 females for each male it afflicts.

Pilonidal disease commonly affects adults in the second to third decade of life. Pilonidal cysts are extremely uncommon after age 40 years, and the incidence usually decreases by age 25 years. The average age of presentation is 21 years for men and 19 years for women.

Long-term prognosis for pilonidal disease is excellent and mortality is practically nil, unless squamous cell carcinoma develops, though abscess recurrence is common as described above.

Resources the articles Pilonidal CystBoils, and Abscess. Also, see the Skin, Hair, and Nails Center.

Pilonidal Support Alliance is a web-based support group and information for patients with pilonidal disease, particularly of a recurrent nature.

Hull TL, Wu J. Pilonidal disease. Surg Clin North Am. 2002 Dec. 82(6):1169-85. [Medline].

Gul VO, Destek S, Ozer S, Etkin E, Ahioglu S, Ince M, et al. Minimally Invasive Surgical Approach to Complicated Recurrent Pilonidal Sinus. Case Rep Surg. 2015. 2015:759316. [Medline].

da Silva JH. Pilonidal cyst: cause and treatment. Dis Colon Rectum. 2000 Aug. 43(8):1146-56. [Medline].

Miller D, Harding K. Pilonidal Sinus Disease. Dec 2003. World Wide Wounds. Available at http://www.worldwidewounds.com/2003/december/Miller/Pilonidal-Sinus.html.

Khanna A, Rombeau JL. Pilonidal disease. Clin Colon Rectal Surg. 2011 Mar. 24 (1):46-53. [Medline].

Ghnnam WM, Hafez DM. Laser hair removal as adjunct to surgery for pilonidal sinus: our initial experience. J Cutan Aesthet Surg. 2011 Sep. 4(3):192-5. [Medline]. [Full Text].

Caestecker J, Mann BD, Castellanos AE, Straus J. Pilonidal Disease. Medscape Reference from WebMD. Last updated Jan 22, 2009. [Full Text].

Burnstein M. Managing anorectal emergencies. Can Fam Physician. 1993 Aug. 39:1782-5. [Medline].

von Laffert M, Stadie V, Ulrich J, Marsch WC, Wohlrab J. Morphology of pilonidal sinus disease: some evidence of its being a unilocalized type of hidradenitis suppurativa. Dermatology. 2011. 223(4):349-55. [Medline].

Feigen GM, Gordon RB. Pilonidal disease simulating rectal abscess and fistula. AMA Arch Surg. 1956 Aug. 73(2):258-60. [Medline].

Hoffman NN, Hoffman GH, Firoozmand E, Capiendo LM. Pilonidal Disease: Subtle, Not So Subtle and Stubborn. Los Angeles Colon and Rectal Surgical Associates. Available at https://www.lacolon.com/documents/Pilonidal%20Disease.pdf.

Doll D, Friederichs J, Boulesteix AL, Dusel W, Fend F, Petersen S. Surgery for asymptomatic pilonidal sinus disease. Int J Colorectal Dis. 2008 Sep. 23(9):839-44. [Medline].

Nguyen AL, Pronk AA, Furnée EJ, Pronk A, Davids PH, Smakman N. Local administration of gentamicin collagen sponge in surgical excision of sacrococcygeal pilonidal sinus disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis of the literature. Tech Coloproctol. 2015 Nov 6. [Medline].

Sevinç B, Karahan Ö, Okuş A, Ay S, Aksoy N, Şimşek G. Randomized prospective comparison of midline and off-midline closure techniques in pilonidal sinus surgery. Surgery. 2015 Oct 31. [Medline].

McCallum I, King PM, Bruce J. Healing by primary versus secondary intention after surgical treatment for pilonidal sinus. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2007 Oct 17. CD006213. [Medline].

Alex Koyfman, MD Assistant Professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Parkland Memorial Hospital

Alex Koyfman, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Emergency Medicine, American College of Emergency Physicians, Society for Academic Emergency Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Brit J Long, MD Assistant Professor, Department of Military and Emergency Medicine, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences; Staff Physician, Department of Emergency Medicine, Associate Program Director – Research, San Antonio Uniformed Services Health Education Consortium

Brit J Long, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Emergency Medicine, American College of Emergency Physicians, Society for Academic Emergency Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Received salary from Medscape for employment. for: Medscape.

Jeter (Jay) Pritchard Taylor, III, MD Assistant Professor, Department of Surgery, University of South Carolina School of Medicine; Attending Physician, Clinical Instructor, Compliance Officer, Department of Emergency Medicine, Palmetto Richland Hospital

Jeter (Jay) Pritchard Taylor, III, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Emergency Medicine, American College of Emergency Physicians, American Medical Association, Columbia Medical Society, Society for Academic Emergency Medicine, South Carolina College of Emergency Physicians, South Carolina Medical Association

Disclosure: Serve(d) as a director, officer, partner, employee, advisor, consultant or trustee for: Employed contractor – Chief Editor for Medscape.

Gil Z Shlamovitz, MD, FACEP Associate Professor of Clinical Emergency Medicine, Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California; Chief Medical Information Officer, Keck Medicine of USC

Gil Z Shlamovitz, MD, FACEP is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Emergency Physicians, American Medical Informatics Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Jerry R Balentine, DO, FACEP, FACOEP Vice President, Medical Affairs and Global Health, New York Institute of Technology; Professor of Emergency Medicine, New York Institute of Technology College of Osteopathic Medicine

Jerry R Balentine, DO, FACEP, FACOEP is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Emergency Physicians, New York Academy of Medicine, American College of Osteopathic Emergency Physicians, American Association for Physician Leadership, American Osteopathic Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Michael D Lanigan, MD Attending Physician, Department of Emergency Medicine, Administrative Section, State University of New York Downstate Medical Center

Michael D Lanigan, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Emergency Physicians, Society for Academic Emergency Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

The authors and editors of Medscape Reference gratefully acknowledge the contributions of previous authors, Robert Ringelheim, MD, Mark A Silverberg, MD, and Norma Jean Johnson-Villanueva, MD, to the development and writing of this article.

Pilonidal Cyst and Sinus

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