Fournier’s Gangrene: A Rare Complication of Sweet’s Syndrome

This is the first reported case of Fournier’s gangrene (FG) as a rare complication of Sweet’s syndrome (SS) (Choi et al, 2017).

Case-study.

A 31-year-old woman was admitted to hospital with a 7 day history of itchy, red skin lesions of various sizes all over her body. She also had a fever, and blood tests showed a raised erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) and C-reactive protein (CRP), indicating inflammation in the body. A procalcitonin test was given to determine whether or not she had developed sepsis – a rare, life-threatening complication of infection, that can occur when chemicals that the immune system releases into the bloodstream to fight infection end up causing inflammation throughout the entire body. In this case, the procalcitonin test result was normal. A skin biopsy of a lesion showed white blood cells called neutrophils in the tissues and damage to the vessels caused by neutrophils releasing noxious substances. The former was indicative of SS. The patient was treated with high dose steroids for 5 days, which she responded well to.

Three days after being discharged, the patient returned to hospital, having developed a painful 2 cm-sized lesion and swelling on her buttock. The drainage from this area had the odour of rotten fish and looked like greenish pus. An X-ray of the area did not show anything unusual, but computed tomography (CT) scan showed that gas had entered the gluteus maximus muscle layer. This is because infection can result in gas in the soft tissues. Bacterial culture showed the presence of several bacteria: Streptococcus anginosus, Pseudomonas, and Clostridium. The patient was eventually diagnosed with FG, and treated with wound debridement (surgical removal of dead tissue) and antibiotics. Two months later, the buttock lesion was completely healed.

What is Fournier’s gangrene?

FG is a rapidly progressive necrotizing fasciitis (NF) that affects the perineal, genital and perianal regions. NF is a rare and serious bacterial infection that affects the superficial fascia – a layer of connective tissue that lies beneath the skin and between the muscles and organs in the body. FG usually develops secondary to other perirectal or periurethral infections, and the main form of treatment is wound debridement and broad-spectrum intravenous antibiotics (Bracho-Riquelme, 2017; Choi et al, 2017).

Some additional & key points.

  • FG most commonly affects those with a weakened immune system (Choi et al, 2017). This includes those with a weakened immune system as a result of taking medications that suppress the immune system (immunosuppressants), e.g. the steroid, prednisone.
  • FG can be confused with the conditions erythema multiforme, erythema nodosum, leukocytoclastic vasculitis, or cellulitis.
  • CT scan is an important diagnostic tool in FG, and can detect the presence of soft tissue air.
  • Early aggressive wound debridement and antibiotics are vital in the treatment of FG.
  • Doctors should consider the possibility of FG when a SS patient who takes immunosuppressants, develops painful lesions on the perianal and perineal area (Ibid).
  • FG or NF should not be confused with the rare SS variant, necrotizing Sweet’s syndrome (NSS). This variant mimics NF, and the main form of treatment is high-dose steroids. Antibiotics do not work in the treatment of NSS, and wound debridement must be avoided as it can lead to the development of new lesions.

References.

Bracho-Riquelme, R. (2017) Fournier Gangrene. NORD: National Organization for Rare Disorders (online).  Rodolfo L. Bracho-Riquelme, MD, is a general and colorectal surgeon at Hospital General de Durango, Mexico. Accessed 6/06/17.

Choi, H., Kim, Y., Na, C. and Shin, B. (2017) Fournier’s Gangrene: A Rare Complication of Sweet’s Syndrome. Annals of Dermatology, Jun;29(3):387-389 (PubMed).

© 2012-2017 Sweet’s Syndrome UK

Challenges of Living with Sweet’s Syndrome

Sweet’s syndrome (SS) is a rare autoinflammatory condition and neutrophilic dermatosis. The most common symptom is skin lesions, but what some people don’t know is that it can cause lots of other symptoms too. On rare occasions, it can even be life-threatening, and approximately 15-20% of patients will develop SS secondary to some form of cancer, most commonly, a group of blood disorders called myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS).

Amongst the SS community, those with SS are typically referred to as ‘Sweeties’, and for them, living with SS can be incredibly difficult. This is not only due to the symptoms of SS, but to the many obstacles and unexpected challenges that they can face along the way. For example, problems associated with a change in appearance, depression, debilitating fatigue, isolation, pain, mobility issues, job loss and financial difficulties, to name but a few.

Living with Sweet’s syndrome. How can it affect a Sweetie?

Change in appearance.

  • Visible skin lesions.
  • Permanent skin discoloration or scarring.
  • Weight gain due to reduced mobility or side-effects of medication.
  • Rarely, hair loss due to the side-effects of medication.

Change in mood, depression or other changes in mental health.

  • Increased risk of anxiety or depression due to having to live or deal with certain difficulties or symptoms, e.g. not well enough to socialise, debilitating fatigue, or frequent or chronic pain.
  • Changes in mood due to the side-effects of medication.
  • Mental changes associated with the rare neurological variant, neuro-Sweet’s disease.

Loss of confidence.

  • Due to change in appearance.
  • Due to being insulted or verbally abused because of a change in appearance.

Isolation.

  • Not wanting to go out due to change in appearance.
  • Being too ill or in too much pain to work or socialise.
  • Symptoms of SS or the side-effects of medication making it difficult or impossible to do certain activities.
  • Others not wanting to associate with Sweeties because they think that their skin lesions can be ‘caught’.

Pain.

  • Painful skin lesions.
  • Headaches, less commonly, migraine.
  • Muscle pain.
  • Joint pain.
  • Eye pain associated with certain eye symptoms.
  • Occasionally, painful mouth ulcers or other types of oral lesion.
  • Rarely, pain as a result of other parts of the body being affected, including internal organs.

Mobility issues.

  • Difficulty walking and moving about because of joint pain and swelling.
  • Painful skin lesions affecting or restricting movement.
  • Neuro-Sweet’s disease causing limb weakness, or problems with co-ordination and balance.
  • Fatigue causing limb heaviness.

Lack of sleep.

  • Pain or other symptoms of SS making it difficult to sleep.
  • Side-effects of medication negatively affecting sleep, e.g. insomnia or nightmares.

Difficulty accessing information and treatment.

  • Struggling to find a doctor who has any understanding of SS.
  • Struggling to access patient information, on or off-line.
  • Health care staff unable to answer any questions that a Sweetie might have, and not able to provide information when requested.
  • Health care staff not taking SS seriously enough, or insulting a Sweetie because they don’t understand SS.
  • Having to wait a long time for the right treatment, or being denied access to certain treatments.

Difficulties associated with work.

  • Sweeties being bullied by work colleagues or customers because of their appearance.
  • Being bullied by an employer because they have to take time off, and are therefore viewed as a malingerer or a costly drain on resources. For example, having to take sick-leave when ill, being admitted to hospital, or having to attend doctor or hospital appointments on a regular basis.
  • Sweeties having to reduce their hours, even if they can’t afford to.
  • Difficultly gaining promotion, demotion or job loss.

Financial difficulties.

  • Struggling to afford to pay for care if a Sweetie lives in a country where health care is privatised.
  • Financial difficulties due to having to reduce hours at work, leave a job, being bullied out of a job or being sacked.
  • Struggling to access benefits due to the assessors or doctors having a poor understanding of SS and it not being recognised by the benefits system. This can happen even when a Sweetie is seriously ill.

Unsupportive family and friends.

  • Family and friends refusing to take SS seriously enough, and telling Sweeties to ‘just get on with it!’
  • Family and friends giving unhelpful advice and telling Sweeties that they are choosing to be ill (‘patient blaming’). For example, ‘ You wouldn’t be ill if you just ate more healthily, cut out gluten, didn’t get stressed, tried this herbal supplement, spent time in the sun, put essential oils on your lesions, or tried homeopathy.’ Some of these things can even make SS worse.
  • Getting annoyed and angry with a Sweetie because they can’t do what they once did, or are no longer in a position to help out others in the way that they did before.

There are many more challenges, obstacles and difficulties that could be added to this list, so please feel free to mention your own in the comments section below this post.

Today is Sweet’s Syndrome UK Day! Please share this post to help raise awareness of SS and the difficulties that those with this condition have to deal with, often on a daily basis. Also, a big thank you to all the health care staff, employers and work colleagues, family members and friends who DO support Sweeties across the globe. You do an amazing job, and frequently have to face your own challenges when it comes to helping and supporting those with SS. 💛

© 2012-2017 Sweet’s Syndrome UK

Celebrate Sweet’s Syndrome UK Day on June 2nd!

June 2nd 2017 is Sweet’s Syndrome UK Day & the 5th anniversary of Sweet’s Syndrome UK.

What can you do to help spread awareness?

  1. Like our Facebook page, and share one of our posts.
  2. Join our HealthUnlocked forum. This is a FREE online community that’s available in English, Spanish, and Portuguese.
  3. Follow this blog.
  4. Follow on twitter @sweetsfiend.
  5. Follow on Google +.
  6. Talk about Sweet’s syndrome: share some posts; comment; blog about your experiences; tag a friend; tweet for Sweet’s.
  7. Share 5 key facts or 10 myths about Sweet’s syndrome.
  8. Make a donation to the Autoinflammatory Alliance. This is a US-based non-profit organization that helps children and adults with autoinflammatory conditions, including Sweet’s syndrome.
  9. Make a donation to Skin Care Cymru. This a Welsh charity that gives a voice to those with skin conditions in Wales.

BEE sweet and buzz for Sweet’s – help us spread the word!

Yes, this is my own work!

Image: ‘I’m a resurcher’, Contrived Platitudes.

There has been ongoing confusion over whether or not the information on the Sweet’s Syndrome UK blog is my own work. The answer is ‘Yes, this is my own work!’ 😲

Most of the Sweet’s syndrome information I provide has not simply been copied and pasted, reblogged or reshared, as certain individuals have insinuated or claimed. Occasionally, I do share information from other blogs or websites, but I make it clear when the work is not my own.

If you would like to access free full-text medical case-studies and articles about Sweet’s syndrome, most of which have been referenced in my blog posts, click here.

Thank you,

Michelle Holder. 💛 💛

© 2012-2017 Sweet’s Syndrome UK

Can vaccination trigger Sweet’s syndrome?

Sweet’s syndrome triggered by vaccination.

There is some medical evidence to show that certain vaccinations can potentially trigger Sweet’s syndrome, but this is incredibly rare, and it is important to take the following information into consideration:

  • Sweet’s syndrome is rare, probably affecting no more than 3 people per 10,000 (Zamanian and Ameri, 2007).
  • It mainly affects adults not children, and only 5% to 8% of cases have been in children (Sharma et al, 2015).
  • In some people, something is needed to trigger the onset of Sweet’s syndrome, but in up to 71% of people with Sweet’s syndrome there is no known trigger (Tam and Ingraffea, 2015).
  • Infection is a more common trigger for Sweet’s syndrome than vaccination, and as a result, Sweet’s syndrome tends to be more common in countries where people are more likely to develop infections (Ginarte and Toribio, 2011: 120). It is most commonly triggered by upper respiratory tract infection, but can be triggered by other infections too.
  • There have only been 10 cases of Sweet’s syndrome triggered by vaccination reported in medical literature in the past 42 years – globally! In some of these cases, a definite connection between the vaccination and Sweet’s syndrome was not established.
  • Sweet’s syndrome has only been associated with certain vaccinations and not others (see below).

Which vaccinations have been associated with Sweet’s syndrome?

Sweet’s syndrome has been associated with the following vaccinations:

  • Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG or tuberculosis) (Carpentier et al, 2002: 82; Cruz-Velasquez et al, 2016). Two cases. One in 1986, occurring 15 days after vaccination, but the authors of the medical article that reported this did not control the tuberculin (Mantoux) test. One reported in 2002, occurring 10 days after vaccination.
  • Streptococcus pneumonia (Carpentier et al, 2002: 82; Cruz-Velasquez et al, 2016; Pedrosa et al, 2013). Two cases. One reported in 1990, occurring 4 days after vaccination following a splenectomy. One reported in 2013, and the first with the 13-valent conjugate vaccine.
  • Smallpox (Carpentier et al, 2002: 82; Cruz-Velasquez et al, 2016). Two cases reported in 1975, occurring 3 days after vaccination.
  • Influenza (Cruz-Velasquez et al, 2016; Hali et al, 2010, Jovanovic et al, 2005; Tan el al. 2006; Wolf et al. 2009). Four cases. One reported in 2005; in 2006, one case of bullous Sweet’s syndrome following vaccination in a HIV-infected patient; in 2009, neutrophilic dermatosis of the hands occurring 12 hours after vaccination; in 2010, one case of Sweet’s syndrome after H1N1 influenza (swine fluvaccination.

Do vaccinations trigger Sweet’s syndrome because they are toxic or contain dangerous chemicals?

No. Vaccinations do not trigger Sweet’s syndrome because they are toxic or contain dangerous chemicals, and anyone who tells you this is either lying to you, trying to scare you, or has no understanding of vaccinations and Sweet’s syndrome.

Why do vaccinations trigger Sweet’s syndrome?

Vaccination can trigger Sweet’s syndrome because of hypersensitivity reaction.

What does ‘hypersensitivity reaction’ mean?

Sweet’s syndrome is caused by errors in the innate immune system  the body’s most primitive, ‘hard-wired’ immune system, and a part of the immune system that doesn’t produce antibodies. Because of these errors, in some people with Sweet’s syndrome, their innate immune system responds to antigens – mainly proteins or sugars on the surface of a cell or a non-living substance, that a part of your immune system called the adaptive immune system sees as a foreign invader and produces antibodies in response to – in a way that it shouldn’t, i.e. is hypersensitive and goes into overdrive, overreacting to the presence of infectious, inflammatory, drug, or tumour cell antigens (Bhat et al, 2015: 257; Kasirye et al, 2011: 135). This means that the presence of antigens associated with certain health conditions, medications and vaccinations can potentially trigger Sweet’s syndrome by stimulating the innate immune system to produce cytokines, which eventually leads to the activation of white blood cells called neutrophils (Gosheger et al, 2002: 70). The neutrophils migrate to skin tissues and sometimes other tissues, even though they shouldn’t, causing skin lesions or other symptoms of Sweet’s syndrome.

If I have Sweet’s syndrome should I avoid having vaccinations?

No. Most people with Sweet’s syndrome don’t need to avoid having their vaccinations unless they can’t be vaccinated for other medical reasons, e.g. they are taking certain types of medication or have other health conditions. However, if the Sweet’s syndrome was initially triggered by a particular vaccination, e.g. influenza, then it would not be advisable to have the same kind of vaccination again.

How do I know if vaccination has triggered my Sweet’s syndrome?

Remember, Sweet’s syndrome triggered by vaccination is incredibly rare, but if it does happen, then symptoms usually develop within hours, days or less commonly, a few weeks after vaccination. Skin lesions sometimes appear at the vaccination site, but this can also happen because of the skin damage caused by having the vaccination (puncture wound from the needle) rather than the vaccine itself. This response is known as pathergy.

Are there other triggers for Sweet’s syndrome?

Yes, and aside from the triggers that have already been mentioned (infection, skin damage, and vaccination), other triggers for Sweet’s syndrome include:

  • Cancer and blood disorders in 15-20% of cases, e.g. solid tumours, and myelodysplastic syndrome which may progress to acute myeloid leukaemia (Chen et al, 2016).
  • Inflammatory bowel disease, e.g. Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis (Cohen, 2007).
  • Autoimmune conditions, e.g. rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus.
  • Medications in up to 5% of cases.
  • Pregnancy in up to 2% of cases. This is probably associated with hormonal changes, but further research is required.
  • Overexposure to sunlight or ultraviolet (UV) light. This can sometimes trigger Sweet’s syndrome, but we are not entirely sure why this happens.

References.

Bhat, Y., Hassan, I., Sajad, P., Akhtar, S. and Sheikh, S. (2015) Sweet’s Syndrome: An Evidence-Based Report. Journal of the College of Physicians and Surgeons – Pakistan, Jul;25(7):525-7 (PubMed).

Carpentier, O., Piette, F. and Delaporte, E. (2002) Sweet’s syndrome after BCG vaccination. Acta Dermato-Venereologica;82(3):221 (PubMed).

Chen, S., Kuo, Y., Liu, Y., Chen, B., Lu, Y. and Miser, J. (2016) Acute Myeloid Leukemia Presenting with Sweet Syndrome: A Case Report and Review of the Literature. Pediatrics and Neonatology (online).

Cohen, P. (2007) Sweet’s syndrome – a comprehensive review of an acute febrile neutrophilic dermatosis (online).

Cruz-Velásquez, G., Pac Sha, J., Simal Gil, E. and Gazulla, J. (2016). Aseptic meningitis and anti-β2-glycoprotein 1 antibodies in Sweet syndrome. Neurologia (Barcelona, Spain), Jul 21 (0nline). Article in Spanish, use translate

Ginarte, M. and Toribio, J. (2011) Sweet Syndrome. In Dr. Fang-Ping (Ed.) Autoimmune Disorders – Current Concepts and Advances from Bedside to Mechanistic Insights. Croatia or China: Intech, pp. 119-132 (PDF). 

Gosheger, G., Hillman, A., Ozaki, T., Buerger, H. and Winklemann, W. (2002) Sweet’s Syndrome Associated With Pigmented Villonodular Synovitis. Acta Orthopædica Belgica, Feb;68(1):68-71 (PubMed).

Hali, F., Sbai, M., Benchikhi, H., Ouakadi, A. and Zamiati, S. (2010) [Sweet’s syndrome after H1N1 influenza vaccination]. Annales de Dermatologie et de Venereologie,  Nov;137(11):740-1 (PubMed).

Jovanovic, M., Poljacki, M., Vujanovic, L. and Duran, V. (2005) Acute febrile neutrophilic dermatosis (Sweet’s syndrome) after influenza vaccination. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, Feb;52(2):367-9 (PubMed).

Kasirye, Y., Danhof, R., Epperla, N. and Garcia-Montilla, R. (2011) Sweet’s Syndrome: One Disease, Multiple Faces. Clinical Medicine & Research, Nov;9(3-4):134-136 (online).

Pedrosa, A., Morais, P., Nogueira, A., Pardal, J. and Azevedo, F. (2013) Sweet’s syndrome triggered by pneumococcal vaccination. Cutaneous and Ocular Toxicology, Sep;32(3):260-1 (PubMed).

Sharma, A., Rattan, R., Shankar, V., Tegta, G. and Verma, G. (2015) Sweet’s syndrome in a 1-year-old child. Indian Journal of  Paediatric Dermatology;16:29-31 (online).

Tam, C. and Ingraffea, A. (2015) Case Letter: Sweet Syndrome Presenting With an Unusual Morphology. Cutis, Aug;96(2):E9-E10 (online).

Tan, A., Tan. H., and Lim, P. (2006) Bullous Sweet’s syndrome following influenza vaccination in a HIV-infected patient. International Journal of Dermatology, Oct;45(10):1254-5 (PubMed). 

Zamanian, A. and Ameri, A. (2007) Acute febrile neutrophilic dermatosis (Sweet’s syndrome): a study of 15 cases in Iran. International Journal of Dermatology, Jun;46(6):571-4 (PubMed).

Wolf, R., Barzilai, A. and Davidovici, B. (2009) Neutrophilic dermatosis of the hands after influenza vaccination. International Journal of Dermatology, Jan;48(1):66-8 (PubMed).

© 2012-2017 Sweet’s Syndrome UK

28th Feb 2017 is Rare Disease Day: what can you do to spread awareness of Sweet’s syndrome?

The 28th February 2017 is Rare Disease Day, and it marks the tenth international Rare Disease Day coordinated by EURORDIS (the European Organization for Rare Diseases). On and around this day patient organizations from countries all over the world will be promoting awareness of rare diseases and holding awareness-raising activities, many of which will be based on the Rare Disease Day 2017 theme of research.

What can you do to spread awareness of Sweet’s syndrome?

  1. Like our Facebook page.
  2. Join our HealthUnlocked forum and community. It’s free!
  3. Follow this blog.
  4. Follow on twitter @sweetsfiend
  5. Follow on Google +.
  6. Talk about Sweet’s syndrome: share some posts; comment; blog about your experiences; tag a friend; tweet for Sweet’s.
  7. Make a donation to the Autoinflammatory Alliance. This is a US-based non-profit organization that helps children and adults with autoinflammatory conditions, including Sweet’s syndrome.
  8. Make a donation to Skin Conditions Campaign Scotland. Sweet’s Syndrome UK is a patient organization member of this charity. This gives us a greater ability to spread awareness of Sweet’s syndrome throughout the UK via Scotland.
  9. Visit the Rare Disease Day website, and sign up for their updates, download free materials, follow on social media, and read about how research can bring hope to those with a rare disease.

© 2012-2017 Sweet’s Syndrome UK

Mindfulness can reduce psychosocial distress in patients with conditions affecting the skin

What is mindfulness?

Taken from the UK mental health charity, MIND (MIND, 2016).

MIND describes mindfulness as:

‘ A technique which can help people manage their mental health or simply gain more enjoyment from life. It involves making a special effort to give your full attention to what is happening in the present moment – to what’s happening in your body, your mind or your surroundings, for example – in a non-judgemental way. Mindfulness describes a way of approaching our thoughts and feelings so that we become more aware of them and react differently to them.’

Can mindfulness help those with conditions affecting the skin to cope better?

Yes. A study by Montgomery et al has shown that mindfulness can help people ‘to reduce the distress associated with social anxiety and avoidance found in many skin conditions’ (Montgomery et al, 2016). This is very important, as those with conditions affecting the skin are at increased risk of developing anxiety and depression, often avoid social situations as a result of the distress that they cause, and can experience disability levels that are the same as those with other long term diseases.

Can anyone be mindful, and are there different ways to be mindful or practice mindfulness?

Yes. Anyone can be mindful, and there are many different ways in which you can practice mindfulness, e.g. by stopping to notice the small everyday things, by practising meditation or yoga, and by watching your thoughts or learning to view them in a different way (NHS Choices, 2016). For more information on how to be mindful, see ‘References’ below and click on the links.

References.

MIND (2016) Mindfulness (online).

Montgomery, K., Norman, P., Messenger, A. and Thompson, A. (2016) The importance of mindfulness in psychosocial distress and quality of life in dermatology patients. British Journal of Dermatology, Nov;175(5):930-936 (online).

NHS Choices (2016) Stress, Anxiety and Depression: Mindfulness (online). Includes information on the different ways in which you can be mindful.

Skin Support (2017) Support Materials. British Association Dermatologists (online). Includes ‘Meditations and Mindfulness’.

© 2012-2017 Sweet’s Syndrome UK