What is Stevens Johnson Syndrome?

Stevens-Johnson syndrome (SJS) is a life-threatening condition affecting the skin, in which due to cell death the epidermis (outermost layer of the skin) separates from the dermis (skin beneath the epidermis that consists of connective tissue). The syndrome is thought to be a hypersensitivity complex affecting the skin and the mucous membranes.

Although Stevens Johnson Syndrome may be caused by viral infections or malignancies, severe allergic reaction to medication is the leading cause. It is a severe expression of a simple rash known as erythema multiforme. SJS is also known as erythema multiforme major.

About SJS

Stevens Johnson Syndrome patients suffer from inflammation of the skin and mucous membranes. Since mucous membranes are present in many organs throughout the body, such as the eyes, digestive system, lungs and respiratory system, many organs can become significantly affected during the disease process. SJS technically is an immune-complex-mediated hypersensitivity (allergic) condition.

SJS typically involves multiple areas of the body and extensive lesion formation. The lesions can extend to the mucous membranes, thus affecting the lungs, eyes, mouth, stomach, intestines and virtually every major organ.

SJS is a serious disorder with potential for severe morbidity and in some cases, it can be fatal. SJS proper (with less than 10 percent of body surface area involved) has the mortality rate of around 5 percent. Other outcomes include organ damage and blindness.

SJS Facts

  • It appears as target like lesions
  • Also known as erythema multiforme major
  • Begins with symptoms of non-specific upper respiratory tract infection
  • First 1 to 14 days symptoms of fever, sore throat, chills, headache, malaise, vomiting and diarrhea, and other flu-like symptoms
  • Rash is severe and widespread and typically involves the eyes, mouth, vaginal, urethral, gastrointestinal, respiratory tract and other internal organs
  • Skin loss may lead to dehydration, infection or death
  • Ocular involvement can include severe conjunctivitis, iritis, conjunctiva and corneal abrasions and corneal perforation


If you have Stevens-Johnson syndrome, several days before the rash develops, you may experience feversore throatcough, and burning eyes. More serious symptoms will follow, including:

  • Facial swelling
  • Tongue swelling
  • Hives
  • Skin pain
  • A red or purple skin rash that spreads
  • Blisters on your skin and mucous membranes, especially in your mouth, nose and eyes
  • Shedding (sloughing) of your skin

 Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis Syndrome (tens) is a more severe form of Stevens Johnson Syndrome

Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis Syndrome (TENS) is a rare and usually severe adverse reaction to certain drugs. The drugs most often implicated in Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis Syndrome are certain antibiotics (e.g. sulfonamides, penicillin, quinolones), NSAIDs (e.g. aspirin), acetaminophen, certain seizure drugs (e.g. carbamazepine, phenytoin, valproic acid), and corticosteroids.

Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis Syndrome (TENS) Facts

Stevens Johnson Syndrome is a severe expression of a simple rash known as erythema multiforme. Stevens Johnson Syndrome is also known as erythema multiforme major. It affects all ages and genders including pediatric populations. The most severe form of Stevens Johnson Syndrome is Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis (TENS). Stevens Johnson Syndrome occurs twice as often in men as in women. Most cases of Stevens Johnson Syndrome appear in children and young adults under age 30. Females with Stevens Johnson Syndrome are twice as likely as males to develop TENS, and have an even higher chance if taking a category of drugs known as NSAIDs, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agents.

  • Reaction to medication is the primary cause of Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis Syndrome (TENS)
  • Usually begins 1 to 4 weeks from onset of starting the causative drug
  • Lesions similar to those seen in Stevens Johnson Syndrome but involving deeper layers of the skin
  • Early symptoms of fever, cough, flu-like symptoms
  • Purplish, bloody looking lesions on skin and mucous membranes usually located on the head, neck and upper chest. These merge and blister causing the skin to detach and peel very much like a person who has been burned
  • Often associated with high fevers and elevated white blood counts
  • Lesions often spread internally to respiratory and gastrointestinal systems
  • Occurs in 0.4 to 1.3 cases per million per year


Stevens-Johnson syndrome requires hospitalization. Treatment focuses on eliminating the underlying cause, if possible, controlling symptoms and minimizing complications. Recovery after Stevens-Johnson syndrome can take several weeks to several months, depending on the severity of your condition.

If your doctor determines that your case of Stevens-Johnson syndrome was caused by medication, be sure to avoid that medication and all others related to it that may cause a similar reaction, because recurrences of Stevens-Johnson syndrome can be fatal.

What can I do if I have been diagnosed with Stevens Johnson Syndrome?

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with Stevens Johnson Syndrome or suffered a serious side effect associated with SJS, you may be entitled to compensation. For a free legal consultation, contact us today!

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