Reye’s Syndrome Definition

An acute and non-inflammatory form of encephalopathy, Reye’s syndrome happens to be an extremely severe but remarkably rare disorder that leads to gradual liver and brain damage. The syndrome is largely predominant in infants and teenagers but could affect individuals of other age groups as well. Kids suffering or recuperating from flu, chickenpox, gastroenteritis or any other viral infection are most vulnerable to the condition.

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What are the possible reasons behind the Reye’s Syndrome?

Majority of cases can be traced to intake of aspirin, a drug extensively prescribed by pediatricians for dealing with viral infections in children. Headaches, a consistent symptom of influenza and chicken pox can be easily relieved by taking aspirin, but the drug’s formulation could trigger symptoms related to Reye’s syndrome. To stay on the safe side, parents should stay away from aspirin and use other prescription medications for treating headaches.

Reye’s syndrome is an idiopathic condition as the cause or causes of the disorder remains undetermined or unidentified. Common symptoms include losing consciousness, seizures, rapid breathing, persistent emesis, diarrhea, and so on. Toxicity of the liver which is typical for this disorder does not cause yellowing of the skin.

History & Occurrence of Reye’s Syndrome

The disease is relatively rare, as the same is diagnosed in less than one out of every million infants. The Australian pathologist, Douglas Reye was the first medical professional to provide a comprehensive account of the disorder in the 1960s. Reye’s syndrome became endemic from 1973 onwards in the United States with maximum cases being dealt in the year 1979-80.

Reye’s Syndrome Symptoms

Reye’s syndrome is typically associated with plummeting blood sugar levels on the one hand and rising acidity and ammonia levels in the blood on the other. Additionally, liver distension and inflammation could also occur accompanied by fatty deposits. The brain could also swell leading to consciousness loss, paroxysms or epileptic seizures.

The symptoms normally surface within 4-5 days after the child is afflicted with chickenpox or influenza virus.

Primary Symptoms of Reye’s Syndrome

Infants, less than two yrs of age, could exhibit the following signs:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Watery or loose stool; diarrhea

Children over 2yrs and adolescents experience the following symptoms:

  • Frequent vomiting
  • Feeling lethargic and sleepy

Other symptoms & signs of Reye’s Syndrome:

  • Seizures
  • Lack of sensation in the upper and lower limbs
  • Extreme weariness
  • Hallucinations or disorientation
  • Losing consciousness
  • Aggressiveness
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating

If you notice one or more of the symptoms above in your child, you should contact the physician promptly. If left untreated, the symptoms could take a turn for the worse and may even result in the infant’s death. On the other hand, timely identification and management of Reye’s syndrome could prevent the symptoms from aggravating, thereby save the kid’s life.

Reye’s Syndrome Causes

Medical experts and healthcare science specialists have still not been able to determine what causes Reye’s syndrome. However, most believe that acetylsalicylic acid (ASA), commonly known as aspirin, sets off the disorder. Aspirin is the most extensively used NSAID drug for treating a wide range of health problems including but not limited to pain, fever, migraine, rheumatic fever, and pericarditis.

However, aspirin’s use is not recommended for individuals below 16 who are undergoing treatment for chicken pox, flu, influenza or other viral infections as it could make them susceptible to the disorder. Moreover, the risk increases manifold if the child or adolescent already has fatty acid oxidation disorder as an underlying condition. FAOD is a type of hereditary metabolic disorder where the body is unable to convert or change fat into fatty acids stored in heart, liver, stomach, and other organs for releasing energy.

Inability to metabolize the fatty acids deposits implies that the buildup continues to accumulate inside the liver causing it to swell during a viral affliction. A screening program can help establish whether your kid has FAOD. Healthcare science experts also share the opinion that paint thinners, insecticides, and herbicides lying around the home could also activate the syndrome.

Reye’s Syndrome Risk Factors & Complications

The likelihood of your child developing Reye’s syndrome increases if:

  • He or she takes aspirin for dealing with a viral disease like influenza, gastroenteritis, flu or chicken pox
  • He or she has been previously diagnosed with any of the several types of fatty acid metabolism disorders

Generally, both of the above conditions work together for activating the disorder. Early detection followed by timely treatment can help save the life of an individual. Nevertheless, the brain could be damaged severely or mildly in most of the cases.

Reye’s Syndrome Treatment & Prevention

No effective therapy or treatment method is available for Reye’s syndrome. Children or teenagers having the syndrome are generally hospitalized and kept in an ICU for close monitoring by a team of expert medical professionals. The doctors aim to alleviate and reverse the dysfunctional metabolic effects, check brain swelling, and correct the electrolyte imbalance.


Since even the most experienced of doctors may find it difficult to conjecture in advance which cases could turn serious, they usually prescribe medicines that help in bringing down the levels of ammonia in the blood.


It is recommended for patients in whom the disorder is at a progressive stage. Hemodialysis helps in filtering out toxins from the liver that cause brain inflammation.


Caution should be exercised when treating children recuperating from any of the viral infections mentioned above. Children under 16 years of age should completely refrain from taking aspirin or any other medication containing aspirin. Get your child screened for fatty acid oxidation disorder if he or she demonstrates the symptoms mentioned above.

Make sure you read the fine print on the label of the bottle or strip. Keep in mind that aspirin has other names well including salicylate, salicylic acid, acetylsalicylate, and acetylsalicylic acid. You can offer Tylenol, Advil, Motrin IB or Aleve for relieving pain and high fever resulting from an infection. You can find detailed and relevant information about the disorder here:

Concluding Remarks

To say the last but not the least, Reye’s syndrome is very much treatable and manageable. You should contact the doctor immediately or take your child to the ER if he or she shows any of the symptoms related to the syndrome.

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