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Stevens Johnson Syndrome

Over 175 million Americans take over-the-counter (OTC) drugs for pain relief, according to the National Consumers League. Of these 175 million, 44 percent exceed the recommended dose while millions ignore label information. OTC complications cause 16,500 deaths and 103,000 hospitalizations every year based on statistics. Experts partially attribute OTC deaths and complications to the mistaken belief that FDA-approved, easy-to-buy drugs are safe.

What is Stevens Johnson Syndrome?

While various medications can cause a number of different side effects, allergic reaction is one of the most common adverse drug reactions reported. In fact, the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology (AAAAI) reports that between 6 and 10 percent of all adverse drug reactions are due to allergic reactions.

One of the most deadly and severe manifestations of drug-related allergic reactions is known as Stevens Johnson Syndrome, which arises when the outer layer of skin pulls away from lower layers, dies and sheds (sloughs) from the body. Painful and debilitating, many of the Stevens Johnson Syndrome symptoms are:

  • facial and tongue swelling
  • lesions, hives and/or skin rash that is particularly worse and concentrated in the body's mucous membranes (i.e. the eyes, nose and mouth)
  • nausea
  • a rapidly spread, red or purple skin rash
  • sloughing or shedding of the skin (as skin-cell death continues)
  • sore throat
  • widespread skin pain

These symptoms can arise on any part of the body's surface, however they tend to be worse and more intense in the mucous membranes of the eyes, nose and mouth. In about 10 to 30 percent of cases, Stevens Johnson Syndrome results in blinding the patient or death. The blinding is the result of the entire surface of the eye scarring over, causing the vision to be lost.

How Long Does Stevens Johnson Syndrome Last?

In order to avoid suffering Stevens Johnson Syndrome, experts advise alerting a physician immediately if a rash develops after taking any of the following medications:

  • anti-gout drugs (allopurinol)
  • anti-epileptic medications (Dilantin, Tegratol)
  • non-steriodal anti-inflammatory drugs, NSAIDS (ibuprofen, naproxen, aspirin, Motrin, Advil, Bextra)
  • medications for bacterial infections (sulfonamides, penicillin, Septra, Bactrim)

Although the most recent news reports on Stevens Johnson Syndrome cases involve children, the disease can affect children, infants, young adults, elderly patients or anyone else. In fact, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that Caucasian men between 20 and 50 years old have the highest risk of developing SJS.

The Controversy Surrounding Ibuprofen and SJS

Parents of children diagnosed with Stevens Johnson Syndrome, alongside some medical experts, filed a petition in February 2005 urging the FDA to require warning labels on ibuprofen. The petition requested that the FDA conduct a full risk assessment of the risks of developing Stevens Johnson Syndrome and Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis Syndrome (TENS, a more severe form of SJS) when taking ibuprofen. The petition also requested that the FDA conduct a full-fledged investigation into why the two largest U.S. brand name makers of ibuprofen, McNeil Pharmaceuticals and Wyeth Consumer Healthcare, withheld critical safety information from the FDA and American public regarding the risks of SJS and TENS with ibuprofen.

Both the FDA and Children's Advil spokespeople have said Stevens Johnson Syndrome is so rare that it not necessary to put it on the label.

If you have Stevens Johnson Syndrome and have a history of taking any of the above-listed medications, consult with an experienced Stevens Johnson Syndrome attorney to learn more about your legal rights and entitlements.

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