Sweet syndrome is an unusual skin condition that takes its name from the doctor who first described the condition in 1964. The medical name for the condition is acute febrile neutrophilic dermatosis, and the disease can cause several unpleasant symptoms. The disease occasionally affects men, but research shows that women with the condition outnumber men by 15 to 1. Find out how the condition can affect you, and learn more about the steps you may need to take to deal with the problem.
Doctors are not entirely sure what causes Sweet syndrome. Many experts attribute the condition to a variety of complex factors, and some researchers believe that the condition occurs as a severe allergic reaction. Similarly, some studies suggest that women develop Sweet syndrome when their immune systems react to a bacterial or viral infection.
Some women seem to suffer from Sweet syndrome as a result of an autoimmune or inflammatory disorder. For example, women with ulcerative colitis are more likely to experience the condition. Certain medications can also cause Sweet syndrome, and some women with blood or breast cancer may also experience the symptoms of the condition.
Sweet syndrome is more likely in women aged 30 to 50, but the condition can occur at any age. Pregnancy-associated sweet syndrome affects women in their first or second trimester, but the condition does not normally pose any risk to the unborn fetus.
If you develop Sweet syndrome, you may experience non-dermatological symptoms first. Some women with the condition experience an upper respiratory infection or a flu-like illness a few weeks before they see any skin-related problems.
When the condition affects your skin, you will normally see small, red bumps on your arm, neck, head or trunk. These bumps will often appear immediately after you develop a fever. The bumps will often quickly grow in size, forming painful clusters across the body. Some clusters can grow as large as 2.5 centimeters in diameter. When these skin lesions join together, the resulting symptom is called a plaque.
The skin lesions can vary in appearance. Some women develop papules (circular bumps), while others experience protruding lumps called nodules. Pustules, blisters and ulcers may also appear. Unfortunately, the lesions can also spread to other parts of the body. Blurred vision, swollen gums and impaired healing can all occur as a result of these lesions.
Diagnosis of Sweet syndrome isn't always easy because the symptoms resemble other skin conditions like herpes simplex and impetigo. If your lesions develop rapidly and without inflammation, your dermatologist will normally suspect Sweet syndrome. He or she will then take a skin biopsy to look for clusters of certain proteins in the upper part of the skin that confirm the diagnosis.
Sweet syndrome will sometimes disappear without treatment, but the unsightly, painful lesions will prompt many women to seek medical help. Corticosteroids will often help you get rid of the lesions, and a doctor may prescribe this medication as a pill, cream, or injection.
Most doctors and dermatologists prescribe oral corticosteroids, but these drugs aren't suitable for long-term use. Women who use these drugs over long periods can suffer from weight gain, insomnia and brittle bones. If your body reacts badly to corticosteroids, a doctor or dermatologist can sometimes prescribe other medications. Colchicine is an effective alternative, but a lot of women suffer from gastrointestinal side effects when they use this drug.
Sweet syndrome lesions return for some patients because they scratch their skin or as a result of other types of trauma. You should avoid using any harsh cleansing products on the lesions, as you may remove tissue that can trigger the symptoms to return. Ultraviolet light can also trigger the symptoms, so you should avoid exposure to bright sunlight once you have suffered a flare-up. Unfortunately, the lesions can sometimes cause scarring, but you can use cosmetic camouflage creams to cover up problem areas. A dermatologist can help you find and use the right cover-up product.
Sweet syndrome is a rare, unpleasant condition that can make your life miserable. Talk to a dermatologist for more information and advice.