Stevens-Johnson syndrome

Last updated: July 15, 2022

Summarytoggle arrow icon

Stevens-Johnson syndrome (SJS) is a rare, immune-mediated, skin reaction that results in blistering of skin and extensive epidermal detachment. SJS is generally triggered by medications (e.g., certain antibiotics and antiepileptics). The patient presents 1–3 weeks after exposure to a medication with fever and other flu-like symptoms. Painful, vesiculobullous skin lesions develop and eventually denude to form extensive skin erosions, resembling large, superficial burns. The mucous membranes are also characteristically affected and the patient presents with oral ulcers, genital ulcers, and/or severe conjunctivitis. When > 30% of the skin is affected, the condition is referred to as toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN). SJS and TEN are associated with a high mortality as a result of hypovolemic and/or septic shock. The diagnosis is primarily clinical, but skin biopsies can be used to support the diagnosis and rule out other causes of vesiculobullous lesions. The most important therapeutic measure is to discontinue the offending drug. Supportive care (e.g., fluid resuscitation, antibiotics) may be required to treat shock.

Definitiontoggle arrow icon

  • A rare, immune-mediated skin reaction that leads to extensive epidermal detachment and is associated with a high mortality.
  • SJS and TEN (toxic epidermal necrolysis) are the same entity but differ in terms of disease severity (based on surface area of skin involved).
    • < 10% – SJS
    • 10–30% – SJS/TEN overlap
    • > 30%Toxic epidermal necrolysis (severe SJS)

Epidemiologytoggle arrow icon

  • Annual incidence: ∼ 5 cases per 1,000,000 individuals
  • Age of onset: any age
  • Sex: > (5:3)

Epidemiological data refers to the US, unless otherwise specified.

Pathophysiologytoggle arrow icon

  • The pathogenesis is not completely understood but is thought to involve a delayed hypersensitivity reaction (type IV): ↑ activity of drug-specific cytotoxic T cells → release of granulysin; (a cytolytic protein) by an unknown mechanism → damage to keratinocytes

Clinical featurestoggle arrow icon

The involvement of mucous membranes differentiates SJS from staphylococcal scalded skin syndrome (SSSS) in which mucous membranes are spared!

Diagnosticstoggle arrow icon

SJS is primarily a clinical diagnosis (based on history of medications and infections, especially HIV) that is supported by skin tests and laboratory findings

Differential diagnosestoggle arrow icon

The differential diagnoses listed here are not exhaustive.

Treatmenttoggle arrow icon

No definitive therapy exists. Early discontinuation of the drug and adequate supportive care are associated with better outcomes!

Complicationstoggle arrow icon

We list the most important complications. The selection is not exhaustive.

Prognosistoggle arrow icon

  • Mortality rate [1]
    • SJS: ∼ 25%
    • SJS/TEN overlap: ∼ 40%
    • TEN: ∼ 50%
  • Factors associated with a poor prognosis
    • Old age (> 70 years)
    • Intestinal involvement
    • Pulmonary involvement
  • Recurrence: SJS and/or TEN may recur with the use of the same or closely related offending drug.

Referencestoggle arrow icon

  1. Sekula P, Dunant A, Mockenhaupt M, et al. Comprehensive Survival Analysis of a Cohort of Patients with Stevens–Johnson Syndrome and Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis. J Invest Dermatol. 2013; 133 (5): p.1197-1204.doi: 10.1038/jid.2012.510 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  2. Kasper DL, Fauci AS, Hauser SL, Longo DL, Lameson JL, Loscalzo J. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. McGraw-Hill Education ; 2015

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