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Stevens-Johnson Syndrome

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jul 4, 2022.

What is Stevens-Johnson syndrome?

Stevens-Johnson syndrome (SJS) is a rare and serious condition of your skin and mucus membranes. SJS will cause you to lose up to 10% of your outer layer of skin. SJS is usually caused by a response to a medicine you have been taking. The most common medicines are antibiotics, NSAIDs, and antiseizure medicines. The response may happen 1 week to 2 months after you take the medicine. SJS may also be caused by infection, vaccinations, or diseases involving your organs or whole body.

What are the signs and symptoms of SJS?

You may have a fever and chills up to 2 weeks before you have skin symptoms. You may also have a cough and sore throat, headache and body aches, and feel more tired than usual. Skin symptoms include the following:

  • Sores that look like targets
  • Painful mouth sores that make it hard to swallow or breathe
  • Painful blisters on your skin, eyes, or genitals
  • Sunburned appearing skin once the top layer falls off

How is SJS diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider may diagnose SJS when he sees your skin. Tell your healthcare provider if you have been taking any medicines recently. A sample of your skin may be taken and sent for tests to check for SJS.

What medicines may be used to treat SJS?

The goal of treating SJS is to stop symptoms from getting worse. You are put in the hospital to treat SJS. Your healthcare provider will stop the medicine you were taking that caused SJS. You may need any of the following:

  • Antacids may be needed if sores grow in your stomach and cause bleeding.
  • Antibiotics may be given to help treat an infection in your blood. Antibiotics may also be put on your skin to lower your risk for infection.
  • Blood thinners help stop clots from forming in your blood if you are not able to get out of bed.
  • Eye drops may be used to help eye sores heal and to prevent infection.
  • Pain medicines help take away or decrease your pain.
  • Immune globulins may be given to make your immune system stronger. You may need immune globulins to treat or prevent an infection.
  • Pressors may be given to increase your blood pressure. A normal blood pressure helps protect your heart, lungs, brain, kidneys, and other organs.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

What treatments may be used for SJS?

  • Wound care is done to protect skin sores and help them heal.
  • Hydrotherapy is done in a whirlpool to help clean your wounds, and to remove dead tissue from your skin.
  • Physical therapy may be needed to help your arm and leg movement if you have to stay in bed.
  • Surgery may be needed if your skin does not heal properly. You may need debridement to clean the wounds and to remove dirt or dead tissues. A skin graft may be done to cover and help heal the areas where you lost skin.
  • TPN is liquid nutrition that provides your body with protein, sugar, vitamins, minerals, and sometimes fat (lipids). TPN is used when you have problems with eating or digesting food.

How can I help manage my symptoms of SJS?

  • Clean your mouth as shown by your healthcare provider. If you have mouth sores, you may be given a special toothbrush or swab to use. Your healthcare provider may also order a medicated mouthwash to help prevent infection.
  • Work with your therapist to keep your arms and legs moving. This will help prevent stiffness from being in bed. Rest when you feel it is needed.
  • Use baby shampoo to clean skin areas with hair on them.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • You get a rash, or sores in your mouth after starting a new medicine.
  • Your skin is red and hurts.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You have a blistering rash on your skin, or in your mouth, eyes, or genitals.
  • You suddenly have trouble breathing.
  • Your skin hurts and begins peeling off.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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