The evolution of Lemierre syndrome: report of 2 cases and review of the literature

Medicine (Baltimore). 2002 Nov;81(6):458-65. doi: 10.1097/00005792-200211000-00006.


Lemierre syndrome (postanginal septicemia) is caused by an acute oropharyngeal infection with secondary septic thrombophlebitis of the internal jugular vein and frequent metastatic infections. A high degree of clinical suspicion is necessary for diagnosis. Fusobacterium necrophorum is the usual etiologic agent. The disease progresses in several steps. The first stage is the primary infection, which is usually a pharyngitis (87.1% of cases). This is followed by local invasion of the lateral pharyngeal space and IJV septic thrombophlebitis (documented in 71.5% of cases), and finally, the occurrence of metastatic complications (present in 90% of cases at the time of diagnosis). A sore throat is the most common symptom during the primary infection (82.5% of cases). During invasion of the lateral pharyngeal space and IJV septic thrombophlebitis, a swollen and/or tender neck is the most common finding (52.2% of patients) and should be considered a red flag in patients with current or recent pharyngitis. The most common site of metastatic infection is the lungs (79.8% of cases). In contrast to the preantibiotic era, cavitating pneumonia and septic arthritis are now uncommon. Most patients (82.5%) had fever at some stage during the course of the disease. Gastrointestinal complaints such as abdominal pain, nausea, and vomiting were common (49.5% of cases). An elevated white blood cell count occurred in 75.2% of cases. Hyperbilirubinemia with slight elevation of liver enzyme levels occurred in one-third of patients, but frank jaundice was uncommon, in contrast to its high frequency reported in the preantibiotic era. We conclude that, most likely as a consequence of widespread antibiotic use for pharyngeal infections, the typical course of the disease has changed since Lemierre's original description. The typical triad in our series was: pharyngitis, a tender/swollen neck, and noncavitating pulmonary infiltrates. The previous classical description of severe sepsis with cavitating pneumonia and septic arthritis was not commonly seen in our review. Mortality was low in our series (6.4%), but significant morbidity occurred, which was likely preventable by early diagnosis and treatment. The pathophysiology, natural history, diagnostic methods for internal jugular vein thrombosis, and management are discussed.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Abdominal Pain / microbiology
  • Acute Disease
  • Adolescent
  • Bacteremia / complications*
  • Bacteremia / diagnosis*
  • Bacteremia / epidemiology
  • Bacteremia / therapy
  • Disease Progression
  • Fever / microbiology
  • Fusobacterium Infections / complications*
  • Fusobacterium Infections / diagnosis*
  • Fusobacterium Infections / epidemiology
  • Fusobacterium Infections / therapy
  • Fusobacterium necrophorum*
  • Humans
  • Hyperbilirubinemia / microbiology
  • Jugular Veins*
  • Leukocytosis / microbiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nausea / microbiology
  • Pharyngitis / complications*
  • Pharyngitis / diagnosis*
  • Pharyngitis / epidemiology
  • Pharyngitis / therapy
  • Pneumonia, Bacterial / microbiology
  • Syndrome
  • Thrombophlebitis / microbiology*
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Vomiting / microbiology