What Is Stevens-Johnson Syndrome Caused By?

What Is Stevens-Johnson Syndrome Caused By?

People take medication to help them manage the symptoms of their conditions. Unfortunately, some people can have severe reactions to and suffer dangerous side effects from certain drugs. One potential complication of certain medications is the development of Stevens-Johnson syndrome (SJS), which is a rare but serious disorder affecting the skin and mucous membranes that can require hospitalization and the potential development of a serious form of the illness called toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN)). Here’s some information about Stevens-Johnson syndrome and whether you might have a viable claim from the experienced injury lawyers at Raynes & Lawn.

What Is Stevens-Johnson Syndrome?

Stevens-Johnson syndrome is typically caused by a reaction to a medication. The condition begins with symptoms that are similar to the flu. The person will then develop a spreading, painful, and blistering rash. Following that, the top layer of the person’s skill will die. Then, the person’s skin will begin to heal once a few days have passed. This condition is an emergency that requires hospitalization. The treatment will be focused on ridding the body of the trigger, providing wound care, controlling pain, and working to reduce potential complications while the skin regrows. It can take several weeks to a few months for a person to recover from this condition.

Some people with Stevens-Johnson syndrome develop a severe form of the illness called toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN). In this condition, more than one-third of the person’s skin will be involved, and their mucous membranes will sustain extensive damage. People who develop Stevens-Johnson syndrome and/or TEN will need to permanently avoid taking the triggering drug and others in its drug class.

Which Medications Can Trigger SJS?

Hundreds of drugs have been associated with Stevens-Johnson syndrome. The condition might be an allergic reaction to a triggering medication. Each year, more than 500 people are diagnosed with SJS in the U.S. In many cases, the condition can be life-threatening and can result in serious complications, including meningitis and sepsis.

The following are common examples of the more than 200 drugs that have been linked to Stevens-Johnson syndrome:

  • Ibuprofen
  • Flurbiprofen
  • Bextra
  • Allopurinol
  • Diclofenac
  • Celebrex
  • Children’s Advil or Motrin
  • Daypro
  • Sulindac
  • Dilantin
  • Diflunisal
  • Phosphenytoin
  • Piroxicam
  • Lamotrigine or Lamictil
  • Etodolac
  • Nalfon
  • Meloxicam
  • Motrin or Advil
  • Naproxen
  • Oruvail
  • Relafen
  • Mefenamic
  • Tolmetin
  • Vioxx
  • Zithromax or arithromycin

Causes of SJS

The causes of SJS include the following:

  • Allergic reaction to certain drugs, which accounts for most cases of SJS
  • Infections, including hepatitis A, herpes, and mycoplasma pneumonia
  • Reaction to certain vaccines
  • Graft vs. host disease
  • Unknown cause

If you have developed SJS that you believe was caused by a medication, the symptoms will appear within a couple of weeks after you begin taking the drug. Your symptoms might include fever, headache, cough, skin pain, painful rash, and skin peeling. If you develop TEN, you might also lose your nails and hair.

SJS Symptoms

SJS typically begins with flu-like symptoms before it progresses. The following symptoms might be experienced if you develop SJS:

  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Fever
  • Burning eyes
  • Skin pain
  • Spreading red or purple rash
  • Painful blisters
  • Hives
  • Skin shedding
  • Tongue and facial swelling

It can take weeks or months to recover from SJS. Some patients who develop this condition might also suffer eye problems or develop TEN. Patients who develop TEN might experience skin that peels away in large sheets. This form of SJS is fatal in up to 33% of cases.

Another skin condition that is connected to SJS is erythema multiforme (EN). People with EN will have red, raised skin in symmetrical areas, but the symptoms will not appear across the entire body. Erythema multiforme minor is a milder type of SJS that involves skin eruptions but does on affect the mucous membranes. Erythema multiforme major is more serious and does affect the mucous membranes, skin, eyes, and areas of the mouth.

Risk Factors for SJS

People who have the following have a greater risk of developing SJS:

  • HIV-positive individuals are 100 times likelier to develop SJS
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • People with cancer with blood cancer posing the highest risk
  • People who have developed SJS in the past
  • Those with family histories of SJS
  • Those with certain genetic variations

Complications of SJS

The potential complications of SJS are detailed below.


When you lose skin in certain areas of the body, you will also lose fluids. Sores in the throat and mouth can also make it more difficult to drink water and other fluids, which can cause you to become dehydrated.


Some people develop sepsis as a complication of SJS. This is an infection that is caused by bacteria entering your bloodstream and spreading the infection throughout your body. This type of infection progresses rapidly and can cause organ failure, shock, and potential death.

Eye Issues

The rash that occurs with SJS can cause dry eyes, eye inflammation, and sensitivity to light. In severe cases, the rash can cause visual impairment. In rare cases, it can cause blindness.

Acute Respiratory Failure

In some cases, people with SJS may have their lungs affected. They might then suffer an emergency in which their lungs can’t sufficiently oxygenate the blood.

Scarring and Disfigurement

Once your skin regrows following SJS, you might notice unusual coloring and bumps. Scarring can also occur. You might have lasting skin issues that cause your nails and hair to fall out, and your nails might not regrow as well as they previously did.

Preventing SJS

There are a few things you can do to try to prevent SJS. Before you take certain types of drugs, you might want to undergo genetic testing. People of Asian and South Asian ancestry are recommended by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to undergo genetic testing for a variation called HLA-B*1502. Testing might help you determine whether certain medications might be unsafe for you to take.

If you’ve ever developed SJS in the past, you should avoid both the medication that triggered your condition and others in the same drug class. For example, if your reaction was triggered by ibuprofen, which is the generic form of brand-name drugs such as Advil and Motrin, you might also need to avoid taking other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Your doctor can help you understand which types of medications to avoid. This is important to you to prevent a recurrence of SJS. If you develop it a second time, it can be more severe than the first time you had the condition and could be fatal.

If a family member had SJS after suffering a reaction to a medication, you might want to avoid taking that medication and others in its class. In some cases, the risk of developing SJS runs in families.

Treatment for SJS

If you develop SJS, you will likely require hospitalization. Your doctors will focus on managing your symptoms, preventing infections, and controlling illnesses. You might be administered antibiotics to control potential infections and intravenous fluids to treat and prevent dehydration. Your doctor might administer corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and give you intravenous immunoglobulins to stop the progression of the disease.

Getting a prompt diagnosis is critical if you think you might have SJS. Getting an early diagnosis and prompt treatment can help to stop the disease progression. Your doctor can identify the medication that is causing your illness to reduce your risk of suffering serious injury and death. The mortality rate of SJS is between 5% to 15%, but prompt diagnosis and treatment can reduce the risk that you will die from this condition.

Can You Recover Compensation After Developing SJS or Losing a Loved One?

If you or a loved one developed SJS and suffered serious injuries, you might have grounds to file a claim. If your loved one developed this condition and died as a result, you might have grounds to file a wrongful death claim against the drug manufacturer and distributor if the condition was caused by a drug defect or if the manufacturer failed to include appropriate warnings.

Some of the types of compensation you might recover in a wrongful death claim include the following:

  • Cost of your loved one’s care until they succumbed to the condition
  • Loss of the financial support and income your loved one provided to your family
  • Loss of the household services your loved one provided to your family
  • Funeral and burial expenses
  • Loss of consortium and guidance

If you developed SJS after taking a prescription or over-the-counter medication, you might also have grounds to file a defective drug claim against the manufacturer and distributor. Drug makers must provide safe products before they distribute them to the public. However, a defective drug claim can be very complicated and might necessitate the help of medical experts and experienced attorneys. In some cases, these types of claims will involve the analysis of millions of pages of documentation. The types of claims that might arise from a defective drug SJS claim include those involving design defects, manufacturing defects, and inadequate warnings.

A design defect claim will require you to show that the drug maker could have used a similar design for the medication at a similar price that would have resulted in significantly less danger than the design that was produced.

A manufacturing defect claim will require you to show that the defect in the medication was caused by a failure during the manufacturing process that affected a lot of medications produced that were markedly different and more dangerous than the intended design.

Finally, an inadequate warning case will be based on defects in the labeling
in which the drug company failed to appropriately warn patients and doctors about the known dangers of medication.

Potential Compensation

The compensation you might receive will depend on multiple factors and can be complex to determine. Some of the types of compensation that you might receive include the following:

  • Past and future medical expenses, including hospitalizations, emergency room care, rehabilitation, disability care, and others
  • Lost wages if your illness prevented you from working
  • Physical pain and suffering
  • Emotional distress/psychological trauma
  • Disability
  • Reduced ability to enjoy life
  • Disfigurement/scarring
  • Others

In some cases, punitive damages might also be available. However, these damages are only awarded in cases in which the drug manufacturer’s conduct was egregious. Punitive damages are paid in addition to any compensatory damages that are awarded.

Some of the factors that affect the value of a claim include the following:

  • The likelihood that the victim will fully recover
  • Whether the victim died
  • The severity of the illness and resulting medical bills
  • The impact of the condition on the victim and the family
  • Whether the condition was partially caused by the negligence of the doctor

When to File a Claim

All states have statutes of limitations for various types of legal claims. These are laws that establish deadlines for filing lawsuits and provide maximum times within which people can file claims.

In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations for injury lawsuits is found in 42 Pa.C.S. 5524. Under this law, you have a maximum of two years to file a lawsuit from the date of your injury. If your SJS was caused by the medical negligence of a doctor, you will have two years from the date of the malpractice or the date when you discovered or reasonably should have discovered that your doctor’s negligence contributed to your illness and injuries.

There are some exceptions to the statute of limitations, including the discovery rule as explained above, and the tolling of the statute of limitations in cases involving minors. For example, if you contracted SJS as a minor, and your parents didn’t sue on your behalf, you will have two years to file a claim after you turn 18.

Talk to an Experienced Injury Lawyer

If you suffered serious complications after developing Stevens-Johnson syndrome or lost your loved one as a result of this condition, you should speak to the experienced injury lawyers at Raynes & Lawn. We have more than 50 years of experience helping negligence victims in Philadelphia and throughout Pennsylvania recover compensation for their losses. Call us today to request a free consultation at 1-800-535-1797.


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