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Ibuprofen Linked to a Rare Condition

When you get an ache or a pain, what do you reach for in your medicine cabinet? Aspirin? Ibuprofen? Acetaminophen? Well, one of those options has been linked to a rare condition called Stevens Johnson Syndrome, or SJS, and is being blamed for the cause of a California girl’s blindness. Keep reading for more information on this rare condition and the pain-reliever that may cause it.

Children’s Motrin is being blamed for the cause of a California girl’s blindness, according to a recent news report.  Sabrina Johnson, 6 years old, was sent home from school with a fever in September of 2003.  Her parents did what any parent would likely do; they gave her some Children’s Motrin.  She went to bed and woke up with a high fever, pink eyes and a swollen mouth filled with sores.  Sabrina was rushed to Cedars Sinai Pediatric Intensive Care Unit.  The next day she was blind.

This story is likely shocking to parents who have never heard of Stevens Johnson Syndrome (SJS).  Stevens-Johnson Syndrome is what Sabrina was diagnosed with, and is a rare but serious and life-threatening condition. 

What is SJS?
SJS occurs as a result of a reaction from a medication - prescription or over-the-counter.  It forms as a simple rash or lesions known as erythema multiforme. It then becomes severe and generally spreads around the eyes, mouth, vagina, urethra, respiratory tract, gastrointestinal area, and other internal organs.  SJS usually starts as an upper respiratory tract infection. 

The following symptoms can occur within the first 14 days.
  • Fever
  • Sore throat
  • Chills
  • Headaches
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Any other flu like symptoms

When the eyes are involved, the following things can happen to the ocular: severe conjunctivitis, iritis, conjunctiva and corneal abrasions, and corneal perforation. Sadly, Sabrina developed symptoms that affected her eyesight.
Most cases of SJS occur in children and young adults that are under 30 years old.  However, anyone is at risk.

SJS and Ibuprofen: The Aftermath
Lawsuits have been scheduled for the next two years in cities across the U.S. The objective of these lawsuits is to convince drug makers to create label warnings for ibuprofen products.  The lawsuits are also asking for compensation for medical and legal expenses, pain and suffering, and punitive damages. 

According to Browne Greene, the attorney representing the Johnson family, “This is a very important consumer case involving the really potent tragedy of a little girl blinded by Children's Motrin, an over-the-counter, seemingly benign medication.”

 "The parents gave the Motrin to a very healthy little girl, 6 at the time, and soon thereafter she started getting worse, and there was nothing on the package insert or label that said anything significant or life-threatening might happen," Greene says. "The label carries only the most benign and general kind of stuff."

The Johnson’s attorney states that McNeil PPC, which is a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson, has known about this link between the active ingredients in Motrin and SJS.  The prescription version of ibuprofen does carry warning labels; however, the over-the-counter versions do not, which is exactly what happened to Sabrina.  Had her parents realized the effects ibuprofen could have on children, they may have chosen an alternative pain reliever and their daughter would have her sight today. 

Many parents are not aware of the dangers of ibuprofen.  In fact, most parents tend to go straight to ibuprofen to relieve fevers and pain because of its strength and how long it lasts.

A McNeil spokesman did comment that the company is aware of the allegations being made with the association of Children’s Motrin and SJS.  This spokesman also stated that SJS is also linked with a variety of medications and has even been caused by viral infections.

"We are deeply concerned about all matters related to our products and have reviewed case reports, reviewed the scientific literature, reviewed the latest studies and consulted with the top experts in the field," the statement says. "Based upon our investigation we firmly believe that it is unlikely ibuprofen can cause SJS and that Children's Motrin is safe and effective when used as directed and if labeled appropriately."

Stevens-Johnson Syndrome is a rare condition.  However, to little Sabrina, rare does not matter.  She is suffering not only from blindness, but also a heightened sensitivity to light.  She must wear a large hat pulled down over her face every time she leaves the house.

Although ibuprofen has been “linked” to Stevens-Johnson syndrome, it has not been proven to “cause” SJS.  Millions of adults and children have used ibuprofen and have never suffered the side effects of SJS.  The purpose of this lawsuit is to make people aware of the possible links by having warning labels added to ibuprofen products.  Therefore, parents can make informed decisions on whether to give their children ibuprofen or not. 

Who knows whether or not the Johnson family would have decided to give their daughter Children’s Motrin, even if there was a label.  Children’s Motrin, after all, is a well known and respectable drug.  However, if there are warning labels parents can make these decisions instead of the drug makers.

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September 05, 2008
WOW! This is very alarming. Thank you for sharing this with us.