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What is Reye’s Syndrome?

What is Reye’s Syndrome?

Reye's (Ryes) syndrome is a rare but serious condition that causes swelling in the liver and brain. Reye's syndrome most often affects children and teenagers recovering from a viral infection, most commonly the flu or chickenpox. Signs and symptoms such as confusion, seizures and loss of consciousness require emergency treatment. Early diagnosis and treatment of Reye's syndrome can save a child's life. Aspirin has been linked with Reye's syndrome, so use caution when giving aspirin to children or teenagers. Though aspirin is approved for use in children older than age 2, children and teenagers recovering from chickenpox or flu-like symptoms should never take aspirin. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns.

Symptoms

In Reye's syndrome, a child's blood sugar level typically drops while the levels of ammonia and acidity in his or her blood rise. At the same time, the liver may swell and develop fatty deposits. Swelling may also occur in the brain, which can cause seizures, convulsions or loss of consciousness.

The signs and symptoms of Reye's syndrome typically appear about three to five days after the onset of a viral infection, such as the flu (influenza) or chickenpox, or an upper respiratory infection, such as a cold. s the condition progresses, signs and symptoms may become more serious, including:

  • Irritable, aggressive or irrational behavior
  • Confusion, disorientation or hallucinations
  • Weakness or paralysis in the arms and legs
  • Seizures
  • Excessive lethargy
  • Decreased level of consciousness

These signs and symptoms require emergency treatment.

Causes

The exact cause of Reye's syndrome is unknown, although several factors may play a role in its development. Reye's syndrome seems to be triggered by using aspirin to treat a viral illness or infection — particularly flu (influenza) and chickenpox — in children and teenagers who have an underlying fatty acid oxidation disorder.

Fatty acid oxidation disorders are a group of inherited metabolic disorders in which the body is unable to break down fatty acids because an enzyme is missing or not working properly. A screening test is needed to determine if your child has a fatty acid oxidation disorder.

In some cases, Reye's syndrome may be an underlying metabolic condition that's unmasked by a viral illness. Exposure to certain toxins — such as insecticides, herbicides and paint thinner — also may contribute to Reye's syndrome.

Risk Factors

The following factors — usually when they occur together — may increase your child's risk of developing Reye's syndrome:

  • Using aspirin to treat a viral infection, such as flu, chickenpox or an upper respiratory infection
  • Having an underlying fatty acid oxidation disorder

Treatment

Reye's syndrome is usually treated in the hospital. Severe cases may be treated in the intensive care unit. The hospital staff will closely monitor your child's blood pressure and other vital signs. Specific treatment may include:

  • Intravenous fluids. Glucose and an electrolyte solution may be given through an intravenous (IV) line.
  • Diuretics. These medications may be used to decrease intracranial pressure and increase fluid loss through urination.
  • Medications to prevent bleeding. Bleeding due to liver abnormalities may require treatment with vitamin K, plasma and platelets.

Use caution when giving aspirin to children or teenagers. Though aspirin is approved for use in children older than age 2, children and teenagers recovering from chickenpox or flu-like symptoms should never take aspirin. This includes plain aspirin and medications that contain aspirin. Some hospitals and medical facilities conduct newborn screenings for fatty acid oxidation disorders to determine which children are at greater risk of developing Reye's syndrome. Children with known fatty acid oxidation disorders should not take aspirin or aspirin-containing products.