When Our Genes Make Us Sick From Medication

New research is uncovering genetic predispositions to developing DRESS Syndrome

RICHMOND, Va., July 8, 2024 /PRNewswire/ — In honor of National DRESS Syndrome Day, July 16, the DRESS Syndrome Foundation is raising awareness about genetic predispositions to developing severe cutaneous adverse drug reactions (SCARs) like DRESS Syndrome. DRESS is a life-threatening condition that results from taking medications, most commonly antibiotics and anticonvulsants. Researchers are working to reveal the link between our genes and these drugs. The goal is to more effectively treat — and prevent — DRESS Syndrome.

“Worldwide, patients are often prescribed medications without a full understanding as to whether these drugs are safe for them to take,” explains Tasha Tolliver, Executive Director of the DRESS Syndrome Foundation. “We’re thankful that a global team of dedicated researchers is identifying genetic markers that make people susceptible to developing severe drug reactions. This will be a huge step forward in preventing DRESS Syndrome while helping to manage risk and prevent harm.”

To date, the medical community has discovered that select drugs carry genetic risk factors for getting DRESS Syndrome and other SCARs. The prevalence of individual genes can vary, depending on the population, like Asian, European, Thai, etc. When patients carry a genetic risk, they have a greater chance of developing DRESS or another SCAR from that specific medication.

Dr. Elizabeth Phillips is a globally renowned severe drug reaction researcher at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. She and her team are uncovering genetic markers that can predict a patient’s likelihood for developing SCARs. They recently discovered that the gene HLA-A*32:01 can increase a person’s chance for developing DRESS from the commonly prescribed antibiotic Vancomycin.

Dr. Phillips and her team have also developed genetic tests for Vancomycin. Although relatively cheap and easy to do, the tests are not yet widely implemented. With more widespread use, medical providers could prevent and better diagnose DRESS Syndrome cases. Before prescribing a medication like Vancomycin, they could weigh the benefit of receiving it against someone’s drug reaction risk.

“We are entering an era where these decision support tools can be a tremendous help,” says Dr. Phillips. “However, clinical practice is still behind in implementing these tests effectively in pharmacogenomics education. In this rapidly changing field, it is crucial to help doctors, nurses, and pharmacists understand and make decisions.”

Dr. Phillips suggests that to better prevent and manage SCARs, general medical board certification and CME requirements should also require pharmacogenetics knowledge.

National DRESS Syndrome Day takes place each year on July 16. The 2024 theme is “Voices for DRESS.” Among other actions, they will recognize medical professionals as “DRESS Heroes” and invite patients and medical experts to share their personal DRESS experiences.

What Is DRESS Syndrome?

DRESS stands for Drug Reaction with Eosinophilia and Systemic Symptoms

  • A severe, cutaneous adverse reaction to medication. Symptoms are delayed (2 – 8 weeks) and can occur from taking one of over 50 prescription drugs like antibiotics and anticonvulsants.
  • Five prescription drugs account for over 50% of cases and 56% of reported deaths: Allopurinol, Carbamazepine, Lamotrigine, Sulfamethoxazole/Trimethoprim (Bactrim) and Vancomycin.
  • One in every 1,000 to 10,000 drug exposures will result in DRESS.
  • 10% of people with DRESS will die.
  • DRESS usually begins with rash, fever, lymphadenopathy, and facial swelling; and leads to blood abnormalities and organ injury, typically of the liver, kidneys, lungs, and heart. It can result in long-term autoimmune complications.

About The DRESS Syndrome Foundation

The DRESS Syndrome Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit based in Richmond, Virginia. We are a collaborative network of patients, families, researchers, and physicians dedicated to educating about severe adverse drug reactions, while advocating for the advancement of research, treatments, and prevention. We serve patients and their loved ones worldwide. Learn more at: DRESSsyndromefoundation.org

Contact: Deanna Lorianni
Communications Director
DRESS Syndrome Foundation 804.307.6703


SOURCE DRESS Syndrome Foundation