Stevens Johnson Syndrome (SJS), a rare and devastating skin disease most commonly triggered by medication, is a possible side effect of taking Cox-2 inhibitors or other drugs. With Merck pulling Vioxx off the market in September 2004, and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) scrutinizing other Cox-2 painkillers, the spotlight has focused on potentially deadly problems like heart attack and stroke. While skin reactions may rank low in comparison, SJS is a serious condition that attacks the skin and mucous membranes and can result in blindness or death.
In December 2004, Pfizer Inc., which manufactures the Cox-2 painkiller Bextra, strengthened the drug label's warning on serious skin reactions. SJS affects roughly 600 to 2,000 people each year, and is characterized by symptoms that generally appear within one week of taking a new drug. According to the Stevens Johnson Syndrome Foundation, symptoms include: a skin rash, blisters or blotches; eyelid swelling, red eyes, or conjunctivitis; and, a fever or flu-like symptoms. Crucial to improving the prognosis is early detection and intervention, which can be a problem since physicians are sometimes unfamiliar with the condition.