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What is a Pilonidal Cyst? - Definition, Causes & Treatment

Instructor: Alyssa Campbell

Alyssa is an active RN and teaches Nursing and Leadership university courses. She also has a Doctorate in Nursing Practice and a Master's in Business Administration.

Pilonidal cysts develop as a result of a piece of hair embedding itself within the skin fold. Read this lesson to learn about the symptoms of a pilonidal cyst and when they require medical attention.

A Sore Bottom

Kelly is a 25-year-old gym teacher at a local elementary school. After a long day at work, she returns home in anticipation of a nice hot shower. As she washes up, she notices a small bump and some sensitivity at her coccyx, or her tailbone.

Having had a cyst, or fluid-filled sack within the skin, at the same spot in the past, she knows the cyst will likely get worse and become more uncomfortable. She decides to make an appointment with her primary care physician.

What is a Pilonidal Cyst?

The physician inspects the tailbone area, the very bottom of the spine sitting at the top of the buttocks. Although pilonidal cysts usually develop in men or those who spend a lot of time in the seated position, Kelly is at risk due to having one in the past. After visualizing the painful spot, the suspicion of a pilonidal cyst is confirmed.

A pilonidal cyst develops when a piece of hair makes its way into the skin and burrows within it. The hair, along with dead skin cells accumulate within the same pocket. Over time, the skin pocket may become irritated causing an infection or abscess.

Symptoms of the Cyst

By the time the cyst is bothersome it is already developing an infection. Some of the signs and symptoms of a pilonidal cyst that requires medical attention include:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Pain
  • Purulent pus, or thick and odiferous drainage

Treating Pilonidal Cysts

Pilonidal cysts may reoccur months or years later after it's initial development. Being familiar with the symptoms of an abscess, Kelly knows that avoiding treatment will only allow the cyst to become larger and more uncomfortable.

After confirming the pilonidal cyst, Kelly's temperature is taken by the nurse to determine if the cyst has caused an infection or overgrowth of bacteria in her body. After determining that the cyst is in fact infected, the physician explains the course of treatment to Kelly.

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