Do You Realize How Serious Stevens Johnson Syndrome Is?

In the past, we have blogged about Stevens Johnson Syndrome (SJS) and how a large population is unaware of this condition.  SJS is a serious problem for victims.  It is bad enough to be diagnosed with this awful condition, but to suffer the symptoms completely unaware of what condition you have or how you developed it, is even more frustrating.  It is unfortunate that since the majority of patients are unaware of Stevens Johnson Syndrome symptoms, they don’t realize that when they break out in an allergic rash, they may be faced with a medical emergency. Immediate medical attention can mean life or death.

Stevens Johnson Syndrome, also known as Erythema Mutliforme, Leyll’s Syndrome, and in its later stages, Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis (TEN), is a rare, serious, and potentially life threatening disease that causes large areas of the skin to become detached from the body, developing lesions in the mucous membranes.

In most cases, SJS begins with flu-like symptoms; fever, sore throat and headache and over a few days (or in some cases, a matter of minutes), followed by a red or purplish rash with open sores or blisters that spread, causing the top layer of skin to eventually peel severely, as well as a respiratory infection. This condition generally affects the mucous membranes of the mouth and throat, genital region and eyelids. It can also cause serious eye problem, which can progress to blindness, and damage of internal organs.

SJS presents as a medical emergency, usually requiring hospitalization. Treatment focuses on eliminating the underlying cause, controlling symptoms and minimizing complications. Often an SJS rash is not diagnosed in time and the condition becomes life threatening.

SJS and its more severe form, TEN, are serious allergic reactions to medications. They can occur at any time, even if the medication was previously well tolerated, and are linked to a variety of common medications, including ibuprofen.

Patients are often treated in hospital burn wards because their skin can peel off and they can suffer burn-related injuries, including severe blistering. If the skin lesions become infected, or lesions develop in the lungs, it can result in death.  Patients who survive often have permanent injuries, including photosensitivity, pain and scarring.  Approximately 5-15 percent of the severe cases of SJS end in death. The patient’s skin actually burns from the inside out, often requiring treatment in the intensive care unit or the burn unit of the hospital.

The problem is that the pharmaceutical companies do not provide adequate warnings regarding the risks associated with their drugs. Almost any drugs, including several over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, such as ibuprofen (found in Advil and Motrin), have been linked to SJS. Without proper warnings, patients who develop SJS continue to take the SJS-causing medication, which can ultimately lead to TEN.

The initial reaction may not occur until 7-14 days after first using the drug. Recovery after SJS can take a week to months, depending on the severity of your condition. If your doctor determines that your case of SJS was caused by medication, you will need to avoid that medication permanently.

Allergic drug reactions cause more than 100,000 deaths among patients annually in the U.S., and adverse drug reactions are the leading cause of death in the U.S.  Did you know that every day, more than 4,000 patients are admitted to hospitals with serious adverse drug reactions?  (That equates to 1.5 million people annually).

The patients most likely to develop SJS are very allergic to antibiotics or painkillers, such as ibuprofen, but most particularly sulfa drugs.  Although the most common cases affect adults between the ages of 20-40, SJS has been diagnosed in babies as young as 3 months old. SJS occurs twice as often in men than women. Any person who takes a prescription or OTC drug, potentially risks developing an allergic reaction and possibly developing a dangerous disease like Stevens Johnson Syndrome.

There are no specific lab tests (besides biopsy) that can definitively confirm the diagnosis of SJS. No specific treatment of SJS is noted; most patients are treated symptomatically.  The treatment is similar to that of a patient with extensive burns.

If you or a loved one may be a victim of Stevens Johnson Syndrome, contact one of our Gacovino Lake attorneys at 1-800-246-HURT (4878).

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