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No one medication results in Stevens Johnson Syndrome, or SJS. Rather, patients taking certain commonly-available over-the-counter (OTC) drugs may have a severe allergic reaction that becomes SJS. If not diagnosed in time and treated, SJS develops into a life-threatening condition.

What is Stevens Johnson Syndrome?

SJS starts as a rash that, if not recognized, becomes blistering, peeling open sores. Loose or peeling skin causes infection and scarring to major organs. Also known as Erythema Multiforme Lyell’s Syndrome, SJS when untreated turns into Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis, in which large areas of the skin detach and develop lesions in mucous membranes.

Many common drugs, which do not fully specify all side effects, are associated with SJS:

  • Advil
  • Motrin
  • Several antibiotics
  • Anticonvulsants
  • Sedatives
  • Pain killers, including Ibuprofen, Bactrim, Ketek, Dilantin, COX-2 inhibitors, NSAIDs, Levaquin

By 2006, the FDA requested all manufacturers update their OTC prescriptions to include warnings about SJS.

SJS, however, often begins benignly with a headache or sore throat. The condition worsens over a few weeks, becoming blisters and lesions over that period. A patient continuing to take the medication may exacerbate SJS; over time, this results in mucous membranes of the mouth and throat being affected, swelling eyelids, and possible blindness and organ damage. For five to 15 percent of all cases, SJS progresses to the lungs, resulting in death.

SJS symptoms, depending upon when a patient seeks medical attention, may be so severe that treatment in a hospital’s burn unit or ICU becomes necessary. Certain patients permanently lose hair and fingernails or, long term, may have dry-eye syndrome, be photophobic, experience lung damage or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), develop chronic fatigue syndrome or asthma, or have scarring of the esophagus.


SJS cases fall within failure to warn or medical malpractice lawsuits. The type depends on when the plaintiff developed SJS, as the warnings were added within the past 10 years, or if he or she unknowingly took a drug causing the condition.

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