Mucosal disease series. Number IV. Erythema multiforme

Oral Dis. 2005 Sep;11(5):261-7. doi: 10.1111/j.1601-0825.2005.01141.x.


Erythema multiforme (EM) is an acute mucocutaneous hypersensitivity reaction characterised by a skin eruption, with or without oral or other mucous membrane lesions. Occasionally EM may involve the mouth alone. EM has been classified into a number of different variants based on the degree of mucosal involvement and the nature and distribution of the skin lesions. EM minor typically affects no more than one mucosa, is the most common form and may be associated with symmetrical target lesions on the extremities. EM major is more severe, typically involving two or more mucous membranes with more variable skin involvement - which is used to distinguish it from Stevens-Johnson syndrome (SJS), where there is extensive skin involvement and significant morbidity and a mortality rate of 5-15%. Both EM major and SJS can involve internal organs and typically are associated with systemic symptoms. Toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN) may be a severe manifestation of EM, but some experts regard it as a discrete disease. EM can be triggered by a number of factors, but the best documented is preceding infection with herpes simplex virus (HSV), the lesions resulting from a cell mediated immune reaction triggered by HSV-DNA. SJS and TEN are usually initiated by drugs, and the tissue damage is mediated by soluble factors including Fas and FasL.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Erythema Multiforme* / classification
  • Erythema Multiforme* / immunology
  • Erythema Multiforme* / pathology
  • Erythema Multiforme* / virology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Cellular
  • Male
  • Mouth Mucosa / pathology*
  • Simplexvirus / pathogenicity
  • Stevens-Johnson Syndrome / pathology