Acetaminophen is commonly used to relieve pain and reduce fever, and it is sold over the counter in dosages suitable for both children and adults. Effective as this drug is in treating fever and pain, there are potential side effects as with any medication. For example, acetaminophen has been linked to a rare but serious disease called Stevens-Johnson Syndrome.
Acetaminophen and Stevens-Johnson Syndrome
Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (SJS) is a potentially deadly disease of the skin and mucus membranes. Signs of SJS include flu-like symptoms followed by painful red or purple rashes and blisters on the skin, which eventually cause the epidermis to die and shed. Recovery can take from weeks to months depending on the severity. The disease is believed to be caused by a combination of factors, including genetics, certain medications and infectious diseases, such as herpes, HIV, diphtheria, typhoid, influenza, and hepatitis. Among the medications positively tagged as contributing to SJS is acetaminophen.
(MORE: What is Stevens-Johnson Syndrome?)
Although the incidence of SJS is very low, about .4 to 1.4 cases in a million, the impact of the disorder is severe, potentially leading to death. More knowledge about the causes and triggers of SJS is needed in order to determine the best ways to prevent and control this debilitating disease.
Recent European Study Confirms Link
The relationship between acetaminophen and SJS became the subject of a study in which SJS patients from various countries in Europe were evaluated to determine risk factors for the disease. The patients were children fifteen years of age and younger who had been hospitalized for SJS or toxic epidermal necrolysis.
Using questionnaires, researchers compiled information such as medical history, demographics, and exposure to medications. Patients were given a list of suspected drugs and were asked to indicate timing of use, dosage, previous exposure, and any adverse reactions to the drugs.
The study confirmed that some of the suspected medications were indeed strongly associated with the development of SJS, most especially anti-infective sulfonamides, lamotrigine, carbamazepine, phenobarbital, and acetaminophen.