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Drug-Induced Pemphigus Medication

  • Author: Diane M Scott, MD; Chief Editor: Dirk M Elston, MD  more...
Updated: Oct 30, 2014

Medication Summary

For patients in whom the disease does not resolve upon withdrawal of the offending agent, medical therapy is necessary. Generally, systemic corticosteroids or other immunosuppressants are required. Anecdotal reports support the use of alternate immunomodulating agents (eg, antimalarial drugs, rituximab, intravenous immunoglobulin, mycophenolate mofetil). Recent reports suggest targeting cholinergic drugs as antiacantholytic therapy for idiopathic pemphigus.



Class Summary

Systemic corticosteroids (eg, prednisone) should be initiated in patients with disease that persists after the implicated agent has been discontinued. Since most cases of drug-induced pemphigus involve an immune mechanism, the anti-inflammatory and immune modulating properties of corticosteroids are beneficial. In idiopathic pemphigus vulgaris and pemphigus foliaceus, high doses of systemic corticosteroids may be needed. This also may be necessary for cases of drug-induced pemphigus.

Prednisone (Deltasone, Orasone, Sterapred)


Prednisone is the initial drug of choice for severe or recalcitrant cases of drug-induced pemphigus. It is an immunosuppressant for the treatment of autoimmune disorders, and it may decrease inflammation by reversing increased capillary permeability and suppressing PMN activity. Prednisone stabilizes lysosomal membranes and suppresses lymphocytes and antibody production. It up-regulates keratinocyte adhesion molecules desmoglein 1 and 3.



Class Summary

Immunosuppressants are for patients who do not respond to moderate doses of systemic steroids or for patients in whom steroids are contraindicated. They also are used as steroid-sparing agents.

Azathioprine (Imuran)


Azathioprine antagonizes purine metabolism and inhibits synthesis of DNA, RNA, and proteins. It may decrease the proliferation of immune cells, which results in lower autoimmune activity. Azathioprine is useful in steroid-resistant patients. It is less toxic than some other immunosuppressants. Generally, it is used in conjunction with low doses of systemic corticosteroids.

Prior measurement of thiopurine methyltransferase (TPMT) levels can be useful in guiding the initial dose.

Cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan, Neosar)


Cyclophosphamide is chemically related to nitrogen mustards. As an alkylating agent, the mechanism of action of the active metabolites may involve cross-linking of DNA, which may interfere with growth of normal and neoplastic cells. Cyclophosphamide is effective in treating pemphigus; however, this drug also is very toxic.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Diane M Scott, MD Dermatologist, Arch Health Partners

Diane M Scott, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Dermatology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Daniel Davis, MD Associate Professor, Departments of Dermatology, Otolaryngology, and Pathology, University of Arkansas for Medical Science

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Specialty Editor Board

Michael J Wells, MD, FAAD Associate Professor, Department of Dermatology, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center, Paul L Foster School of Medicine

Michael J Wells, MD, FAAD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Academy of Dermatology, American Medical Association, Texas Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Jeffrey J Miller, MD Associate Professor of Dermatology, Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine; Staff Dermatologist, Pennsylvania State Milton S Hershey Medical Center

Jeffrey J Miller, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Academy of Dermatology, Society for Investigative Dermatology, Association of Professors of Dermatology, North American Hair Research Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Dirk M Elston, MD Professor and Chairman, Department of Dermatology and Dermatologic Surgery, Medical University of South Carolina College of Medicine

Dirk M Elston, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Dermatology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Additional Contributors

David Timothy Woodley, MD Professor and Chair, Department of Dermatology, Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California

David Timothy Woodley, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Dermatology, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American College of Emergency Physicians, American College of Physicians, American Federation for Medical Research, American Society for Clinical Investigation, New York Academy of Medicine, Society for Investigative Dermatology, Southern Medical Association

Disclosure: Received consulting fee from Shire Pharmaceuticals for consulting.


Kimberly I Soderberg, MD Consulting Staff, Oyster Point Dermatology

Kimberly I Soderberg, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Academy of Dermatology, American Medical Association, Arkansas Medical Society, and Women's Dermatologic Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Early small blister filled with clear fluid arises on healthy skin.
Flaccid blister filled with clear fluid arises on healthy skin.
An erosion.
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