Reye's 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 and who may also have a metabolic disorder. 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.
Complications of Reye’s syndrome
Most children and teenagers who have Reye's syndrome survive, although varying degrees of permanent brain damage are possible. Without proper diagnosis and treatment, Reye's syndrome can be fatal within a few days.
Causes of Reye’s syndrome
Signs & Symptoms of Reye’s syndrome
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 a viral infection, such as the flu (influenza) or chickenpox, or an upper respiratory infection, such as a cold. For children younger than age 2, the first signs of Reye's syndrome may be diarrhea and rapid breathing. For older children and teenagers, early signs and symptoms of Reye's syndrome may include:
As the condition progresses, signs and symptoms may become more serious:
These signs and symptoms require emergency treatment.
Diagnosis of Reye’s syndrome
There's no specific test for Reye's syndrome. Instead, screening for Reye's syndrome usually begins with blood and urine tests as well as testing for fatty acid oxidation disorders and other metabolic disorders.
Sometimes more invasive diagnostic tests are needed to evaluate other possible causes of liver problems and investigate any neurological abnormalities. For example:
Treatments of Reye’s syndrome
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:
If your child has trouble breathing, he or she may need assistance from a breathing machine (ventilator).
Prevention of Reye’s syndrome
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.
Always check the label before you give your child medication, including over-the-counter products and alternative or herbal remedies. Aspirin can show up in some unexpected places, such as Alka-Seltzer. Sometimes aspirin goes by other names, too, such as:
If your child has the flu, chickenpox or another viral illness, use other medications — such as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, others) or naproxen sodium (Aleve) — to reduce high fever or relieve pain.
There's one caveat to the aspirin rule, however. Children and teenagers who have certain chronic diseases, such as Kawasaki disease, may need long-term treatment with drugs that contain aspirin. If your child needs aspirin therapy, make sure his or her vaccines are current — including two doses of the varicella (chickenpox) vaccine and a yearly flu vaccine. Avoiding these two viral illnesses can help prevent Reye's syndrome.
When to seek Medical Advice
Early diagnosis and treatment of Reye's syndrome can save a child's life. If you suspect that your child has Reye's syndrome, it's important to act quickly.
Contact your child's doctor if your child becomes unusually sleepy or lethargic or has sudden behavior changes following a common cold or a bout with the flu or chickenpox.
Seek emergency medical help if your child has seizures or convulsions or loses consciousness.