Reye’s Syndrome

What is Reye’s Syndrome?

When a person suffers from Reye’s Syndrome, they are experiencing a sudden and acute issue with their brain and liver. The condition causes the brain and the liver to swell and is a serious and possibly life-threatening situation. Permanent damage to both the liver and the brain can occur with Reye’s syndrome, particularly if it is not addressed quickly.

Reye’s syndrome occurs most often in children and teenagers. However, anybody can suffer from it. There is no known cause of the development of this acute disorder. Many cases of Reye’s syndrome do occur after a child with a viral infection (like chickenpox) is given aspirin. These children were found to also have a fatty acid oxidation issue after the fact which may have contributed to the development of Reye’s syndrome. It is also possible that Reye’s syndrome may have genetic components or may occur because of exposure to certain toxins.

What are the Symptoms of Reye’s Syndrome?

The symptoms of Reye’s syndrome can become severe seemingly out of nowhere. Some of the primary signs and symptoms of this condition include confusion and lethargy as well as loss of consciousness. It can cause a person to go into a coma as well. Nausea and vomiting as well as odd postural issues (like placing the arms and legs in odd positions) and muscle weakness may also occur. Other signs of Reye’s syndrome include changes in personality, irritability, hearing loss, and slurred or altered speech.

Reye’s Syndrome Causes

Physicians and medical researchers are just beginning to understand what the underlying cause of Reye’s syndrome is, as there is great uncertainty surrounding this disease. It is a well-known fact that Reye’s syndrome almost always occurs among those under the age of 20 who have been infected with influenza or chickenpox.

Children and teenagers affected by these viruses are known to develop Reye’s syndrome after having been given aspirin to reduce fever and discomfort. It is believed that certain children have a fatty acid oxidation disorder that renders the body unable to breakdown the aspirin in certain situations.

There is another theory that holds that certain children and young adults have some type of metabolic disorder that only comes to the surface when certain viruses are present. When aspirin is given, the symptoms of Reye’s syndrome manifest.

How is Reye’s Syndrome Treated?

When a person is suffering from Reye’s syndrome, the main goal of treatment is to prevent them from suffering permanent liver and brain damage. Diuretics and IV fluids can help to ensure that the body is getting proper nutrients and is processing waste properly. Steroid medications can sometimes be administered to help with swelling that occurs in the brain. Bleeding can also be an issue in severe cases of Reye’s syndrome and may require monitoring and treatment with medication. Sometimes, a ventilator may be necessary for breathing support. Reye’s syndrome is usually treated in a hospital intensive care unit.

Reye’s Syndrome Prevention

Reye’s syndrome is a devastating condition, but steps can be taken to prevent Reye’s syndrome from developing. First of all, if a child or teenager is running a fever and a virus of any type is suspected, do not give aspirin. Acetaminophen is an acceptable alternative.

Both chickenpox and influenza are the two main viruses associated with the development of Reye’s syndrome. There is a highly effective vaccine on the market to prevent chickenpox – two doses of this vaccine are required. Influenza vaccines must be administered on an annual basis. While not providing complete protection against all types of influenza, these vaccines do provide protection against the main strains of flu that are expected to be prevalent in any given year.

Some hospitals are now routinely performing screenings for newborns to determine if they have a fatty acid oxidation disorder. If they do, aspirin can be totally avoided leading to the prevention of Reye’s syndrome in these children’s future.

Last Reviewed:
October 09, 2016
Last Updated:
December 19, 2017