Indexed with PubMed and Science Citation Index (E) 
Users online: 649 
     Home | Feedback | Login 
About Current Issue Archive Ahead of print Search Instructions Online Submission Subscribe What's New Contact  
  Navigate here 
   Next article
   Previous article 
   Table of Contents
 Resource links
   Similar in PUBMED
    Search Pubmed for
    Search in Google Scholar for
  Related articles
   Article in PDF (111 KB)
   Citation Manager
   Access Statistics
   Reader Comments
   Email Alert *
   Add to My List *
* Registration required (free)  

  In this article

 Article Access Statistics
    PDF Downloaded816    
    Comments [Add]    
    Cited by others 12    

Recommend this journal

Year : 2004  |  Volume : 70  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 20-24

Adverse cutaneous drug reactions: Clinical pattern and causative agents in a tertiary care center in South India

Department of Dermatology and STD, Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research (JIPMER), Pondicherry - 605006

Correspondence Address:
Department of Dermatology and STD, Jawaharlal Institute of Postgraduate Medical Education and Research (JIPMER), Pondicherry - 605006
[email protected]


Background: Adverse cutaneous drug reactions (ACDRs) are caused by a wide variety of agents. Aims: Our objective was to ascertain the clinical spectrum of ACDRs and the causative drugs in this part of India and to find any risk factors. Methods: Ninety patients with adverse cutaneous drug reactions were recruited for this study during 2001-2003. Hematological and biochemical investigations were done in all of them. The VDRL and HIV (ELISA) tests were performed where the underlying risk factors were present. Patch testing, intradermal testing and oral provocation tests were done wherever feasible. Results: The mean age of the patients with cutaneous drug eruptions was 37.06 years. Most of them (52.2%) were in the age group of 20-39 years. The male to female ratio was 0.87: 1. The most common eruptions observed were fixed drug eruption (31.1%) and maculopapular rash (12.2%), and the most common causes were co-trimoxazole (22.2%) and dapsone (17.7%). Conclusion: The pattern of ACDRs and the drugs causing them is remarkably different in our population. Knowledge of these drug eruptions, the causative drugs and the prognostic indicators is essential for the clinician.

How to cite this article:
Pudukadan D, Thappa DM. Adverse cutaneous drug reactions: Clinical pattern and causative agents in a tertiary care center in South India. Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol 2004;70:20-4

How to cite this URL:
Pudukadan D, Thappa DM. Adverse cutaneous drug reactions: Clinical pattern and causative agents in a tertiary care center in South India. Indian J Dermatol Venereol Leprol [serial online] 2004 [cited 2021 Jan 23];70:20-4. Available from:

   Introduction Top

Adverse cutaneous drug reactions (ACDRs) are responsible for approximately 3% of all disabling injuries during hospitalization. Many of the commonly used drugs have reaction rates over 1%.[1] There is a wide spectrum of cutaneous adverse drug reactions varying from transient maculopapular rash to fatal toxic epidermal necrolysis (TEN).[2],[3] The pattern of cutaneous adverse drug eruptions and the drugs responsible for them keep changing every year. The objective of our study was to ascertain the clinical spectrum of ACDRs and the causative drugs, and to find any risk factors in a tertiary care center in South India.

   Methods Top

Ninety consecutive patients with adverse cutaneous drug reactions were recruited for this study during 2001-2003. Reactions where the drugs taken were not known were excluded. The detailed history (including age, sex, duration of eruption, drugs responsible and complications) and physical examination findings were recorded. Hematological and biochemical investigations (serum electrolytes, blood sugar, liver and renal function tests) were done in all cases. The VDRL test and HIV (ELISA) test were performed where the underlying risk factors were present. For patch testing, the standard concentration of the incriminated agent was dispersed in a suitable vehicle and applied using a Finn chamber on the lateral aspect of the upper arm. The reaction was observed after 48 hours. The reading was graded based on International Contact Dermatitis Group (ICDRG) recommendations.[4] Intradermal testing and oral provocation tests were done as per the standard protocol wherever feasible and ethical as per our institute's Ethical Committee recommendations. The severity of the reaction was graded according to the University of Virginia Health System Adverse Drug Reaction Reporting Program criteria as follows:[5]
1. Mild: A reaction that does not require treatment or prolongation of hospital stay
2. Moderate: A reaction that requires treatment and/or prolongs hospitalization by at least one day
3. Severe: A reaction that is potentially life-threatening or contributes to the death of the patient, is permanently disabling, requires intensive medical care (including extended hospitalization), or results in a congenital anomaly, cancer, or unintentional overdose.

The data were analyzed utilizing Chi square test and independent 't' test.

   Results Top

The mean age of our patients with cutaneous drug eruptions was 37.06 years ( 30.12; range, 9-75 years). Most of them (47/90) were in the age group of 20-39 years, followed by 22 patients in the 40-59 years age group, 11 in the 60-79 years age group, and 6 in the 0-19 years age group. The male to female ratio was 0.87:1.

The major presenting complaint was symptomatic rash (56.7%; 51/90 patients), followed by blistering (22%; 20/90) and pustular rash in (3.3%; 3/90). The mean duration of intake of medicine prior to the onset of the drug rash was 14.01 days ( 24.45; 1-172 days). Most of the cases (86.7%; 78/90 cases) developed a rash while they were taking the incriminated drug.

Of the 90 consecutive patients, 25 had consumed the same drug earlier, 13 had a similar cutaneous reaction earlier and 12 had no reactions. A history of premarital/extramarital sexual exposure was obtained in 8.9% (8/90) of patients; only one patient was HIV seropositve, and all these patients were VDRL non-reactive.

A history of a previous systemic illness was present in 44 patients (48.9%); 12 (13.3%) had a major illness while the remaining 32 (35.6%) had a minor one.

Most of our patients (41/90) had 0-10% body surface area involvement; 31 patients had 31-90%, 15 had 11-30%, and just 3 had more than 90% body surface area involvement. About 40% of the patients (36/90) had mucosal involvement. Systemic manifestations were present only in 32.2% (29/90).

Eosinophilia (absolute eosinophil count > 500 cells/mm3)[6] was present in 42.2% of patients (38/90) and liver function abnormalities in 23.3% (21/90). Only 10%
(9/90) of the cases had other abnormal biochemical values: 3 had elevated blood sugar levels, 5 had decreased serum total proteins and 1 had hypokalemia.

In 87 of the 90 patients the suspected drug was withdrawn and the skin lesions subsided in 90.8% (79/87 cases) of them. Rechallenge (with griseofulvin, methotrexate, diclofenac sodium and co-trimoxazole in 1 case each) was done only in the four cases in whom the dechallenge results were doubtful or negative, and was positive in all of them. Patch testing was undertaken in 11 patients; most (8/11; 72.7%) gave positive results. Mild adverse cutaneous reactions were observed in 42.2% (38/90) cases, moderate adverse cutaneous reactions in 27.7% (25/90), and severe disease in 30% (27/90).

The various types of drug eruptions are shown in [Table - 1] and the commonly implicated drugs in [Table - 2].

Correlation of the severity of the drug eruption with various clinical parameters is tabulated in [Table - 3]. For the purpose of analysis, the patients were divided into 2 groups based on severity, i.e. severe and non-severe. The non-severe group included both mild and moderately severe cases of drug eruptions [Table - 4]. The mean body surface area involvement was 38.5% ( 29.4; 6-96%) in the severe group compared to the 21.7% ( 24.31; 1-90%) in the non-severe group. Abnormal systemic findings were observed in 55.5%
(15/27 patients) in the severe group compared to 22.2% (14/63 patients) in the non-severe group. The mean eosinophil count was significantly higher in the severe group than) in the non-severe group. The absolute eosinophil count was mostly abnormal except in a few cases of urticarial drug eruption, maculopapular eruptions, and lichenoid drug eruptions. All cases of acneiform drug eruptions and eczematoid drug eruptions had a normal absolute eosinophil count.

Complications were seen in 18 of the 90 patients of drug eruptions, mostly in SJS (6/7 patients) and TEN (5/9 patients), and included septicemia (6), urinary tract infections (3), ocular involvement (2), oral candidiasis (2), renal involvement (2) and balanoposthitis (1). Two patients died while on treatment.

   Discussion Top

Adverse cutaneous drug reactions vary in their patterns of morphology and distribution. In previous studies the most common morphologic patterns are exanthematous, urticarial and/or angioedema, fixed drug eruption and erythema multiforme.[7] Of the various types of ACDRs seen in our study, fixed drug eruption (FDE) was the most common drug eruption (31.1%), followed by maculopapular rash (12.2%). Others have noted exanthematous eruption to be most common type of drug eruption.[9],[10] A study from North India also found maculopapular rash to be most common type of ACDR.[3] This variation could be due to different patterns of drug usage and different ethnic group characteristics.

Commonly incriminated drugs in our study were co-trimoxazole (22.2%), followed by dapsone (17.8%), phenytoin (7.8%) and carbamazepine (7.8%). Our institution is located in an area endemic for leprosy and, besides leprosy, dapsone is being used for many other dermatoses like lichen planus, bullous pemphigoid, etc. This could possibly explain the number of cases of dapsone induced adverse cutaneous drug eruptions seen in our hospital. Dapsone and antiepileptics were more commonly incriminated in severe drug eruptions, whereas cotrimoxazole and NSAIDs were more commonly involved in non-severe drug eruptions. When we looked at the drugs in broad groups, antimicrobials formed the major group (58.88%), followed by antiepileptics and NSAIDs (15.55% each). This is in concordance with an earlier report from North India.[3] Antimicrobials, followed by NSAIDs and central nervous system depressants were the most common implicated drugs in another study.[10]

We observed a slight predominance of female patients. All cases of acneiform eruptions were reported in female patients, possibly because women are more conscious of this relatively asymptomatic eruption. Men seemed to predominate in cases of eczematoid drug eruptions, exfoliative drug eruptions, psoriasiform drug eruptions, maculopapular drug eruptions and fixed drug eruption.

The majority our patients belonged to the 20-39 years age group, as also observed in another Indian study.[3] Another study observed that adults aged 20-49 years were at greatest risk of antibiotics-related drug eruptions, probably due to increased exposure to antibiotics.[11] However, two other studies noted that the elderly are more commonly affected.[12],[13] Adverse reactions to drugs increase with age.[9] This may be due to the increased use of medications by the elderly, increased potential for drug-drug interactions, and altered drug handling by the body. The difference in various studies may be related to the regional variation in the health care seeking behavior of the population.[3]

Many of our patients (48.9%) gave a history of previous systemic illness. Multiple medical problems increase the chance of developing adverse drug eruptions.[13] Adverse drug reactions amongst pediatric patients are influenced by several factors like prolonged hospital stay, the classes of drugs used and polypharmacy.[14] This might be extrapolated to other age groups as well.

We found visceral involvement predominantly in patients with SJS-TEN, exfoliative dermatitis, psoriasiform dermatitis and angioedema. Visceral involvement may predict a poor prognosis in SJS-TEN.[15],[16] It may be due to the drug eruption or it may be due to a pre-existing disease.

The mean absolute eosinophil count was abnormal in most eruptions, with values more than 500 cells/mm3, except in cases of acneiform eruptions, urticaria/angioedema, and eczematoid, lichenoid and fixed drug eruption patients. Higher mean eosinophil counts were seen in the severe types of drug eruptions. Various textbooks[7] state that an elevated peripheral eosinophil count is an uncommon finding in cutaneous drug eruptions and therefore, contrary to the popular belief, its presence or absence is of little importance in excluding or confirming the diagnosis. According to Romagosa et al,[17] a peripheral eosinophil count carries little diagnostic value in the setting of adverse cutaneous drug eruptions. Guidelines of the American Academy of Dermatology state that eosinophil counts more than 1000 cells/mm3 indicate a serious drug-induced cutaneous eruption.[18] In our study, the absolute eosinophil counts were consistently higher in the so-called serious adverse cutaneous reactions. Although described as a test of little diagnostic value, absolute eosinophil counts may be useful in assessing the prognosis early in the disease course. Abnormal liver function tests also have been described as an independent indicator of the severity of a drug-induced cutaneous eruption.[18],[19]

To conclude, the pattern of ACDRs and the drugs causing them are remarkably different in our population. A sound knowledge of these drug eruptions may help the clinician to better manage their cases. 

   References Top

1.Roujeau JC, Stern RS. Severe adverse cutaneous reactions to drugs. N Engl J Med 1994;331:1272-85.  Back to cited text no. 1  [PUBMED]  [FULLTEXT]
2.Sharma VK, Sethuraman G. Adverse cutaneous reactions to drugs: an overview. J Postgrad Med 1996;42:15-22.   Back to cited text no. 2  [PUBMED]  [FULLTEXT]
3.Sharma VK, Sethuraman G, Kumar B. Cutaneous adverse drug reactions: Clinical pattern and causative agents-A six-year series from Chandigarh, India. J Postgrad Med 2001;47:95-9.  Back to cited text no. 3  [PUBMED]  [FULLTEXT]
4.Rietschel RL, Fowler JF Jr. Contact dermatitis. 5th ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2001.  Back to cited text no. 4    
5.Hendrick AE, McCarthy MW, Hofer K. University of Virginia Health System Adverse Drug Reaction Reporting Program Policy and Procedure. University of Virginia Health System. Department of Pharmacy Services, Drug Information Center.1-5-99. Accessed on 8-13-2003.   Back to cited text no. 5    
6.Holland SM, Gallin JI. Disorders of phagocytic cells. In: Gallin JI, Snyderman R, editors. Inflammation; Basic principles and clinical correlates. 3rd ed. Philadelphia: Lippincott-Williams & Wilkins; 1999. p. 895-914.  Back to cited text no. 6    
7.Stern RS, Wintroub BU. Cutaneous reactions to drugs. In: Freedberg IM, Eisen AZ, Wolff K, Austen KF, Goldsmith LA, Katz SI, et al, editors. Fitzpatrick's Dermatology in general medicine. 5th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill; 1999. p. 1634-42.  Back to cited text no. 7    
8.Alanko K, Stubbs S, Kauppinen K. Cutaneous drug reactions: Clinical types and causative agents-A five-year survey of in-patients (1981-1985). Acta Derm Venereol 1989;69:223-6.  Back to cited text no. 8    
9.Sullivan JR, Shear NH. Drug eruptions and other adverse drug effects in aged skin. Clin Geriatr Med 2002;18:21-42.  Back to cited text no. 9    
10.Kauppinen K, Stubb S. Drug eruptions: Causative agents and clinical types. Acta Derm Venereol 1984;64:320-4.  Back to cited text no. 10    
11.Solensky R, Mendelson LM. Systemic reactions to antibiotics. Immunol Allergy Clin N Am 2001;21:679-97.  Back to cited text no. 11    
12.Leape LL, Troyen AB, Laird N, Lawthers AG, Localio AR, Barnes BA, et al. The nature of adverse events in hospitalized patients. Results of the Harvard Medical Practice Study II. N Engl J Med 1991;324:377-84.  Back to cited text no. 12    
13.Hafner JW, Belknap SW, Squillante MD, Bucheit KA. Adverse drug events in emergency department patients. Ann Emerg Med 2002;39:258-67.  Back to cited text no. 13    
14.Weiss J, Krebs S, Hoffmann C, Werner U, Neubert A, Brune K, et al. Survey of adverse drug reactions on a pediatric ward: A strategy for early and detailed detection. Pediatrics 2002;110:254-7.  Back to cited text no. 14    
15.Wolkenstein P, Revuz J. Toxic epidermal necrolysis. Dermatol Clin 2000;18:485-95.  Back to cited text no. 15    
16.Revuz J. New advances in severe adverse drug reactions. Dermatol Clin 2001;19:697-709.  Back to cited text no. 16    
17.Romagosa R, Kapoor S, Sanders J, Berman B. Inpatient adverse cutaneous drug eruptions and eosinophilia. Arch Dermatol 2001;137:511-2.  Back to cited text no. 17    
18.Drake LA, Dinehart SM, Farmer ER, Goltz RW, Graham GF, Hordinsky MK, et al. Guidelines of care for cutaneous adverse drug reactions. American academy of dermatology. J Am Acad Dermatol 1996;35:458-61.  Back to cited text no. 18    
19.Westly ED, Wechsler HL. Toxic epidermal necrolysis: Granulocyte leukopenia as a prognostic indicator. Arch Dermatol 1984;120:721-6.  Back to cited text no. 19    


Print this article  Email this article
Previous article Next article


Online since 15th March '04
Published by Wolters Kluwer - Medknow