Systemic interventions for treatment of Stevens-Johnson syndrome (SJS), toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN), and SJS/TEN overlap syndrome

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2022 Mar 11;3(3):CD013130. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD013130.pub2.


Background: Stevens-Johnson syndrome (SJS), toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN), and SJS/TEN overlap syndrome are rare, severe cutaneous adverse reactions usually triggered by medications. In addition to tertiary-level supportive care, various systemic therapies have been used including glucocorticoids, intravenous immunoglobulins (IVIGs), cyclosporin, N-acetylcysteine, thalidomide, infliximab, etanercept, and plasmapheresis. There is an unmet need to understand the efficacy of these interventions.

Objectives: To assess the effects of systemic therapies (medicines delivered orally, intramuscularly, or intravenously) for the treatment of SJS, TEN, and SJS/TEN overlap syndrome.

Search methods: We searched the following databases up to March 2021: the Cochrane Skin Specialised Register, CENTRAL, MEDLINE, and Embase. We also searched five clinical trial registers, the reference lists of all included studies and of key review articles, and a number of drug manufacturer websites. We searched for errata or retractions of included studies.

Selection criteria: We included only randomised controlled trials (RCTs) and prospective observational comparative studies of participants of any age with a clinical diagnosis of SJS, TEN, or SJS/TEN overlap syndrome. We included all systemic therapies studied to date and permitted comparisons between each therapy, as well as between therapy and placebo.

Data collection and analysis: We used standard methodological procedures as specified by Cochrane. Our primary outcomes were SJS/TEN-specific mortality and adverse effects leading to discontinuation of SJS/TEN therapy. Secondary outcomes included time to complete re-epithelialisation, intensive care unit length of stay, total hospital length of stay, illness sequelae, and other adverse effects attributed to systemic therapy. We rated the certainty of the evidence for each outcome using GRADE.

Main results: We included nine studies with a total of 308 participants (131 males and 155 females) from seven countries. We included two studies in the quantitative meta-analysis. We included three RCTs and six prospective, controlled observational studies. Sample sizes ranged from 10 to 91. Most studies did not report study duration or time to follow-up. Two studies reported a mean SCORe of Toxic Epidermal Necrosis (SCORTEN) of 3 and 1.9. Seven studies did not report SCORTEN, although four of these studies reported average or ranges of body surface area (BSA) (means ranging from 44% to 51%). Two studies were set in burns units, two in dermatology wards, one in an intensive care unit, one in a paediatric ward, and three in unspecified inpatient units. Seven studies reported a mean age, which ranged from 29 to 56 years. Two studies included paediatric participants (23 children). We assessed the results from one of three RCTs as low risk of bias in all domains, one as high, and one as some concerns. We judged the results from all six prospective observational comparative studies to be at a high risk of bias. We downgraded the certainty of the evidence because of serious risk of bias concerns and for imprecision due to small numbers of participants. The interventions assessed included systemic corticosteroids, tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) inhibitors, cyclosporin, thalidomide, N-acetylcysteine, IVIG, and supportive care. No data were available for the main comparisons of interest as specified in the review protocol: etanercept versus cyclosporin, etanercept versus IVIG, IVIG versus supportive care, IVIG versus cyclosporin, and cyclosporin versus corticosteroids. Corticosteroids versus no corticosteroids It is uncertain if there is any difference between corticosteroids (methylprednisolone 4 mg/kg/day for two more days after fever had subsided and no new lesions had developed) and no corticosteroids on disease-specific mortality (risk ratio (RR) 2.55, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.72 to 9.03; 2 studies; 56 participants; very low-certainty evidence). Time to complete re-epithelialisation, length of hospital stay, and adverse effects leading to discontinuation of therapy were not reported. IVIG versus no IVIG It is uncertain if there is any difference between IVIG (0.2 to 0.5 g/kg cumulative dose over three days) and no IVIG in risk of disease-specific mortality (RR 0.33, 95% CI 0.04 to 2.91); time to complete re-epithelialisation (mean difference (MD) -2.93 days, 95% CI -4.4 to -1.46); or length of hospital stay (MD -2.00 days, 95% CI -5.81 to 1.81). All results in this comparison were based on one study with 36 participants, and very low-certainty evidence. Adverse effects leading to discontinuation of therapy were not reported. Etanercept (TNF-alpha inhibitor) versus corticosteroids Etanercept (25 mg (50 mg if weight > 65 kg) twice weekly "until skin lesions healed") may reduce disease-specific mortality compared to corticosteroids (intravenous prednisolone 1 to 1.5 mg/kg/day "until skin lesions healed") (RR 0.51, 95% CI 0.16 to 1.63; 1 study; 91 participants; low-certainty evidence); however, the CIs were consistent with possible benefit and possible harm. Serious adverse events, such as sepsis and respiratory failure, were reported in 5 of 48 participants with etanercept and 9 of 43 participants with corticosteroids, but it was not clear if they led to discontinuation of therapy. Time to complete re-epithelialisation and length of hospital stay were not reported. Cyclosporin versus IVIG It is uncertain if there is any difference between cyclosporin (3 mg/kg/day or intravenous 1 mg/kg/day until complete re-epithelialisation, then tapered off (10 mg/day reduction every 48 hours)) and IVIG (continuous infusion 0.75 g/kg/day for 4 days (total dose 3 g/kg) in participants with normal renal function) in risk of disease-specific mortality (RR 0.13, 95% CI 0.02 to 0.98, 1 study; 22 participants; very low-certainty evidence). Time to complete re-epithelialisation, length of hospital stay, and adverse effects leading to discontinuation of therapy were not reported. No studies measured intensive care unit length of stay.

Authors' conclusions: When compared to corticosteroids, etanercept may result in mortality reduction. For the following comparisons, the certainty of the evidence for disease-specific mortality is very low: corticosteroids versus no corticosteroids, IVIG versus no IVIG and cyclosporin versus IVIG. There is a need for more multicentric studies, focused on the most important clinical comparisons, to provide reliable answers about the best treatments for SJS/TEN.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcysteine
  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones / therapeutic use
  • Adult
  • Autoimmune Diseases* / drug therapy
  • Child
  • Cyclosporine / therapeutic use
  • Etanercept
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulins, Intravenous / therapeutic use
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Observational Studies as Topic
  • Stevens-Johnson Syndrome* / drug therapy
  • Thalidomide
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha


  • Adrenal Cortex Hormones
  • Immunoglobulins, Intravenous
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor-alpha
  • Thalidomide
  • Cyclosporine
  • Etanercept
  • Acetylcysteine