What is Reye’s Syndrome?

Reye’s syndrome is a rare but very serious illness that causes swelling of the liver and brain.

Who is at risk for Reye’s Syndrome?

Children and teenagers recovering from a viral infection are most at risk for Reye’s Syndrome. The illness is commonly associated with chickenpox and the flu.

What causes Reye’s Syndrome?

The cause of Reye’s Syndrome is unknown, although there are many factors that may influence its development:

  • Aspirin: Aspirin used to help treat symptoms of the flu or chickenpox can help trigger Reye’s Syndrome. If you or your child has the flu or chickenpox, it is important to avoid aspirin.
  • Fatty acid oxidation: A screening test can determine if your child has a fatty acid oxidation disorder which can contribute to Reye’s Syndrome.
  • Metabolic conditions: An underlying metabolic condition can be a factor in Reye’s Syndrome.
  • Toxins: Exposure to toxins such as insecticide, herbicide, or paint thinner can contribute to the illness.

What are the symptoms of Reye’s Syndrome?

Symptoms usually appear 3-5 days after the occurrence of a viral infection. Catching the illness early can save a life.   If you or your child experience any of these symptoms after suffering a viral infection, see a doctor immediately. Symptoms include:

  • Diarrhea
  • Rapid breathing
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Irritable behavior
  • Confusion, disorientation, or hallucinations
  • Weakness or paralysis
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Drop in blood sugar
  • Rise in ammonia and/or acidity levels
  • Swelling of the liver and/or brain

What complications are associated with Reye’s Sydnrome?

Most people will recover completely from Reye’s Syndrome, although some patients will experience varying degrees of brain damage. Without treatment, Reye’s Syndrome can quickly become fatal.

How is Reye’s Syndrome diagnosed?

Blood and urine tests as well as fatty acid oxidation and other metabolic disorder tests can help determine if a patient has Reye’s Syndrome. Occasionally, other tests such as a spinal tap, liver biopsy, CT scan, MRI, or skin biopsy may be required to properly diagnose Reye’s Syndrome.

How is Reye’s Syndrome treated?

Patients with Reye’s Syndrome usually require hospitalization. Severe cases may be treated in the ICU. Patients may require IV fluids, diuretics, and medications to prevent bleeding. A nurse may monitor blood pressure and other vital signs. Occasionally, a ventilator may be required to assist with breathing.

How can I prevent Reye’s Syndrome?

Avoid aspirin and products containing aspirin. Aspirin may go by other names such as:

  • Acetylsalicylic acid
  • Acetylsalicylate
  • Salicylic acid
  • Salicylate

Tylenol, Advil, and Aleve can be used as alternatives to aspirin for people with viral infections. Additionally, fatty acid oxidation tests can be conducted to determine if a person is at risk for Reye’s Syndrome. People with fatty acid oxidation disorders should always avoid aspirin and products containing aspirin. Reye’s Syndrome can be prevented by avoiding viral diseases such as the chickenpox or the flu. Stay up-to-date on all vaccinations to prevent these diseases.

For more information on Reye’s Syndrome, click here.