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What is Sweet's Syndrome?

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  • Written By: R. Robinson
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 11 November 2016
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Sweet’s syndrome, or acute febrile neutrophilic dermatosis, is a condition mainly affecting the face, neck and arms; it is characterized by eruptive skin lesions and the sudden onset of fever. While Sweet’s syndrome can occur on its own, it also may present in conjunction with hematologic or immunologic diseases, infection or other illnesses. Sweet’s syndrome is most commonly found in women between the ages of 30 and 50. The condition is treatable, but may occasionally return.

Sweet’s syndrome is characterized by skin lesions that present as small bumps that quickly grow and spread over an area of skin in a cluster-like formation. These clusters are painful and will erupt, turning into blisters and ulcers. Along with the skin lesions, a person with Sweet’s syndrome may experience fever, headaches, pink eye, and lethargy.

The most common form of Sweet’s syndrome is idiopathic, in which the cause of the condition is mainly unknown. In some cases, idiopathic Sweet’s syndrome occurs during or after pregnancy. This condition also may be a result of inflammatory bowel disease or infections of the upper respiratory and gastrointestinal areas.

Sweet’s syndrome may also be linked to malignancy, especially acute leukemia and cancers caused by tumors. This type of Sweet’s occurs in approximately 20 percent of cases and may be an early indicator of cancer. Malignancy-associated Sweet’s may also indicate a return of cancer.

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On rare occasions, Sweet’s syndrome can be caused by a reaction to medication. Some anti-epileptic drugs, oral contraceptives, antibiotics and diuretics result in the development of Sweet’s syndrome. The most common medication to trigger this is granulocyte colony-stimulating factor, which is designed to raise white blood count cells. In these cases, discontinuing use of the medication is sufficient to treat the syndrome.

To positively identify Sweet’s syndrome, a dermatologist will either conduct a blood test or biopsy a tissue sample. The blood test is simply taking a sample of blood for testing at a laboratory. The test can identify any number of blood diseases, as well as whether a person’s white blood cell count is higher than normal. A biopsy involves taking a small tissue sample of the area to determine if the area has the characteristics of Sweet’s syndrome.

Anti-inflammatory medications are used to treat Sweet’s either topically or orally. For idiopathic Sweet's syndrome, no treatment is necessary; the lesions will gradually fade away in one to four weeks and generally leave no scars. Treatment may be recommended by a doctor for malignancy-associated Sweet’s, because the skin lesions are reoccurring. It is best to follow a doctor’s instructions regarding treatment for optimal results.

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