ASK DR. H: Sweet syndrome may signal serious illness

Q: Can you explain the rash known as Sweet syndrome?— D.C., Macungie, Pa.’

A: It’s a skin condition first described in 1964 by Dr. Robert Sweet. It’s characterized by the sudden onset of tender, red papules and/or plaques on the skin. Unlike other skin rashes, this one is often seen in the setting of a recent fever, and the affected person often has an elevated white blood cell count.

The diagnosis of Sweet syndrome is made definitively by a skin biopsy. It responds well to topical or oral steroids just like a lot of other rashes. These lesions do not cause scarring. Unlike a lot of other skin conditions, Sweet syndrome may be the first sign of an underlying serious systemic illness — especially acute myelogenous leukemia.

The diagnosis of Sweet syndrome should prompt a full workup to look for the presence of a possible underlying disorder. Fortunately, Sweet syndrome is an uncommon disorder and most cases are linked to benign causes or simply unexplainable.

Dr. Mitchell Hecht is a physician specializing in internal medicine. Send questions to him at “Ask Dr. H,” P.O. Box 767787, Roswell, GA 30076. Because of the large volume of mail received, personal replies are not possible.

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