Wells Syndrome Workup

  • Author: Robert A Schwartz, MD, MPH; Chief Editor: Dirk M Elston, MD  more...
Updated: Jun 02, 2016

Approach Considerations

Wells Syndrome (eosinophilic cellulitis) is usually diagnosed on the basis of the characteristic histopathologic findings in a skin biopsy specimen.

Peripheral blood and bone marrow eosinophilia are usually present. In peripheral blood, an increase in eosinophil cation protein (ECP) and IL-5 levels can be detected. The levels of ECP and IL-5 seem to be correlated with the severity of the disease.


Histologic Findings

Skin biopsy specimens of Wells Syndrome (eosinophilic cellulitis) show a dermal infiltrate of eosinophils, histiocytes, and eosinophil debris between collagen bundles that forms flame figures. During the acute early phase, the dense infiltrate of degranulating eosinophils is usually located in the epidermis and the dermis, although it occasionally extends into the subcutaneous tissue and the underlying muscle.[41, 42, 43]

Vesiculation can occur. The blisters contain eosinophils and are predominantly subepidermal and, occasionally, multiloculated and spongiotic. The location of the infiltrate is correlated with the different clinical features.

After weeks, the flame figures are seen, along with a palisade of histiocytes and giant cells around some collagen fibers. With immunofluorescent stains, eosinophil major basic protein is identified in the granules of the flame figures.[44] On electron microscopy, the collagen fibers are intact; this finding suggests that an initial degeneration of collagen is not a factor in initiating the formation of flame figures.

Although the histopathologic findings of eosinophilia, histiocytes, and flame figures are characteristic of Wells syndrome, they are also found in other conditions, including bullous pemphigoid, eczema, tinea infection, dermatitis herpetiformis, scabies, and insect bites.[45, 46]

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Robert A Schwartz, MD, MPH Professor and Head of Dermatology, Professor of Pathology, Pediatrics, Medicine, and Preventive Medicine and Community Health, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School; Visiting Professor, Rutgers University School of Public Affairs and Administration

Robert A Schwartz, MD, MPH is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, New York Academy of Medicine, American Academy of Dermatology, American College of Physicians, Sigma Xi

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Justin Brown, MD Dermatologist, The Dermatology Group

Justin Brown, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Academy of Dermatology, American Society for MOHS Surgery, Sigma Xi

Disclosure: Received honoraria from Medicis for review panel membership; Received honoraria from Triax for review panel membership.

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.


David F Butler, MD Professor of Dermatology, Texas A&M University College of Medicine; Chair, Department of Dermatology, Director, Dermatology Residency Training Program, Scott and White Clinic, Northside Clinic

David F Butler, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Academy of Dermatology, American Medical Association, American Society for Dermatologic Surgery, American Society for MOHS Surgery, Association of Military Dermatologists, and Phi Beta Kappa

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Rosalie Elenitsas, MD Herman Beerman Associate Professor of Dermatology, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine; Director, Penn Cutaneous Pathology Services, Department of Dermatology, University of Pennsylvania Health System

Rosalie Elenitsas, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Dermatology and American Society of Dermatopathology

Disclosure: Lippincott Williams Wilkins Royalty Textbook editor; DLA Piper Consulting fee Consulting

Takeji Nishikawa, MD Emeritus Professor, Department of Dermatology, Keio University School of Medicine; Director, Samoncho Dermatology Clinic; Managing Director, The Waksman Foundation of Japan Inc

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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