Erythema multiforme


Erythema multiforme is a skin disorder that comes from an allergic reaction or infection.

Alternative Names

Lyell's syndrome; Stevens-Johnson syndrome; Erythema multiforme minor; Erythema multiforme major


Erythema multiforme is a type of hypsersensitivity reaction. It occurs in response to medicines, infections, or illness. Medications that can cause this reaction include:

Infections include:

The exact cause is unknown. The disorder may start with damage to the blood vessels of the skin, that is followed by damage to skin tissues.

Some forms of this condition are more severe than others.

Erythema multiforme occurs mostly in children and young adults.


Other symptoms may include:

Exams and Tests

You doctor will look at your skin to diagnose this problem and ask if you have a history of risk factors or related diseases.

Tests may include:


Treatment goals include:

Your doctor may have you stop taking any medicines that may be causing the problem. Do not stop taking medicines without talking to your doctor first. 

Treatment of mild symptoms may include:

Treatment of severe symptoms may include:

Good hygiene and staying away from other people may help prevent secondary infections.

You may need skin grafting if  large areas of the body are affected.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Mild forms of erythema multiforme usually get better in 2 - 6 weeks, but the problem may return. More severe forms may be hard to treat. Stevens-Johnson syndrome and toxic epidermal necrolysis have high death rates.

Possible Complications

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if you have symptoms of erythema multiforme. Get emergency help immediately if a large area of the body is affected.


In: Habif TP, ed. Clinical Dermatology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2009:chap 18.

Weber DJ, Cohen MS, Morrell DS, Rutala WA. The acutely ill patient with fever and rash. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Disease. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 52.

Review Date: 11/20/2012
Reviewed By: Kevin Berman, MD, PhD, Atlanta Center for Dermatologic Disease, Atlanta, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.
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