What Is Stevens-Johnson Syndrome?

Your doctor may prescribe a medication because he or she believes it will effectively control the symptoms of a medical condition. Each medicine comes with risks and benefits, and your physician prescribes a medication when he or she believes the benefits outweigh the risks. Unfortunately, some medications can lead to severe and life-threatening side effects. One of these is called Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (SJS).

Stevens-Johnson Syndrome is a rare but life-threatening medical condition that affects the skin and mucous membranes. It begins with flu-like symptoms and then a painful, red or purple rash spreads and forms blisters. The top layer of skin becomes necrotic, sheds, and heals.

This is a medical emergency that requires hospitalization. Treatment will focus on determining the underlying cause and minimizing complications while your skin regrows. Recovery can take weeks or months, depending on the nature and severity of the condition. If you or a loved one has recently taken over-the-counter medication or a prescription drug and have developed SJS, consider speaking with a Philadelphia dangerous drug attorney as soon as possible.


In the beginning the symptoms of SJS are similar to the flu. You may experience any of the following symptoms in the beginning stages:

  • Fever
  • Sore throat and mouth
  • Fatigue
  • Unexplained widespread pain on the surface of your skin
  • Cough
  • Burning eyes
  • Blisters on your skin or mucous membranes, including nose, eyes, mouth, or genitals
  • A red or purple rash

If you experience these symptoms, report to your nearest emergency medical facility for immediate treatment.


Often, SJS is a reaction to a medication. Over 100 drugs have been linked to the condition. These include:

  • Medicine used to treat gout, especially Aloprim.
  • Sulfa antibiotics.
  • Medications that treat mental illness or seizures.
  • Pain relievers like acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Motrin) and naproxen sodium (Aleve).

If you develop SJS in response to taking a medication, you’ll have to stop taking it permanently.


SJS makes your body lose a layer of skin, which is our first line of defense against infection. One of the main goals of treatment is to minimize the risk of secondary infection and treating dehydration. Victims of SJS often receive treatment in an intensive care or burn unit. Since SJS can make it too painful to eat or drink, victims often receive fluids from an IV and food through a tube for the first days and weeks following an episode.

The most common complication is sepsis, which is an inflammatory reaction of your whole body leading to organ failure. Other complications may include trouble breathing from fluid buildup or multi-system organ failure. Most people recover from SJS within a few months, but chances of survival are best when you’re young and healthy.


There is no drug that will cure SJS; the main treatment is targeting at preventing complications while the skin sheds and heals. A person with SJS can expect to stay in the hospital for at least two to four weeks, though those with more severe cases may require longer to recover. Even after you’ve recovered from SJS, you may notice lingering symptoms such as dry eyes and scarring. If you believe you suffered from SJS due to a medication, discuss the issue with a qualified Philadelphia personal injury lawyer experienced in drug injury claims who may have information about others who have filed lawsuits against drug manufacturers.