SJS is thought to arise from a disorder of the immune system. The immune reaction can be triggered by drugs or infections. Genetic factors are associated with a predisposition to SJS. The cause of SJS is unknown in one-quarter to one-half of cases.
- See also: List of SJS-inducing substances
- Although SJS can be caused by viral infections and malignancies, the main cause is medications. A leading cause appears to be the use of antibiotics, particularly sulfa drugs. Between 100 and 200 different drugs may be associated with SJS. No reliable test exists to establish a link between a particular drug and SJS for an individual case. Determining what drug is the cause is based on the time interval between first use of the drug and the beginning of the skin reaction. A published algorithm (ALDEN) to assess drug causality gives structured assistance in identifying the responsible medication.
- SJS may be caused by adverse effects of the drugs vancomycin, allopurinol, valproate, levofloxacin, diclofenac, etravirine, isotretinoin, fluconazole valdecoxib, sitagliptin, oseltamivir, penicillins, barbiturates, sulfonamides, phenytoin, azithromycin, oxcarbazepine, zonisamide, modafinil, lamotrigine, nevirapine, pyrimethamine, ibuprofen,ethosuximide, carbamazepine, bupropion, telaprevir and nystatin.
- Medications that have traditionally been known to lead to SJS, erythema multiforme, and toxic epidermal necrolysis include sulfonamide antibiotics, penicillin antibiotics, cefixime (antibiotic), barbiturates (sedatives), lamotrigine, phenytoin (e.g., Dilantin) (anticonvulsants) and trimethoprim. Combining lamotrigine with sodium valproate increases the risk of SJS.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are a rare cause of SJS in adults; the risk is higher for older patients, women, and those initiating treatment. Typically, the symptoms of drug-induced SJS arise within a week of starting the medication. Similar to NSAIDs, paracetamol (acetaminophen) has also caused rare cases of SJS. People with systemic lupus erythematosus or HIV infections are more susceptible to drug-induced SJS.
- The second most common cause of SJS and TEN is infection, particularly in children. This includes upper respiratory infections, otitis media, pharyngitis, and Epstein-Barr virus, Mycoplasma pneumoniae and cytomegalovirus infections. The routine use of medicines such as antibiotics, antipyretics and analgesics to manage infections can make it difficult to identify if cases were caused by the infection or medicines taken.
- Viral diseases reported to cause SJS include: herpes simplex virus (debated), AIDS, coxsackievirus, influenza, hepatitis, and mumps.
- In pediatric cases, Epstein-Barr virus and enteroviruses have been associated with SJS.
- Recent upper respiratory tract infections have been reported by more than half of patients with SJS.
- Bacterial infections linked to SJS include group A beta-hemolytic streptococci, diphtheria, brucellosis, lymphogranuloma venereum, mycobacteria, Mycoplasma pneumoniae, rickettsial infections, tularemia, and typhoid.
- Fungal infections with coccidioidomycosis, dermatophytosis, and histoplasmosis are also considered possible causes.Malaria and trichomoniasis, protozoal infections, have also been reported as causes.
- In some East Asian populations studied (Han Chinese and Thai), carbamazepine- and phenytoin-induced SJS is strongly associated with HLA-B*1502 (HLA-B75), an HLA-B serotype of the broader serotype HLA-B15. A study in Europe suggested the gene marker is only relevant for East Asians.
- Based on the Asian findings, similar studies in Europe showed 61% of allopurinol-induced SJS/TEN patients carried the HLA-B58 (phenotype frequency of the B*5801 allele in Europeans is typically 3%). One study concluded: "Even when HLA-B alleles behave as strong risk factors, as for allopurinol, they are neither sufficient nor necessary to explain the disease."