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Reye's Syndrome

  • Definition

    Reye syndrome is a serious but rare condition. It causes a build-up of fat and swelling in most organs. Reye is most harmful to the liver and brain.
    It tends to occur during recovery from a viral infection.
  • Causes

    The cause of Reye syndrome is unknown.
  • Risk Factors

    Reye syndrome occurs most often in children aged 2-16 years, but it can occur in anyone. Other factors that may increase the chance of Reye syndrome include:
    • Use of aspirin or other salicylates, especially in children during viral illness like the flu or chickenpox
    • Recent viral illness, including:
    • Fatty acid oxidation disorder
    • Exposure to certain toxins
  • Symptoms

    Symptoms usually occur after a viral illness and may include:
    • Frequent or persistent vomiting
    • Drowsiness and fatigue
    • Personality changes, such as irritability and aggression
    • Confusion
    • Disordered speech
    • Hallucinations
    • Convulsions
    • Rapid or deep breathing
    • Loss of consciousness
    Later symptoms may progress to:
    • Coma
    • Seizures
    • Inability to breathe without help
    Call a doctor right away if you or your child has any of these symptoms, especially after a viral infection.
  • Diagnosis

    The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
    Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with:
    Spinal Tap–Lumbar Puncture Method
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  • Treatment

    Early diagnosis and treatment are important for a successful recovery.
    Treatment is focused on protecting the brain and other organs from damage. Options include:
    Medications may help to:
    • Decrease inflammation
    • Lower pressure of fluid in the brain
    • Prevent seizures
    • Reduce vomiting
    • Reduce blood ammonia levels—may also require dialysis
    Glucose and electrolytes will be given by IV.
    The brain, heart, and lungs will be carefully monitored. This will help the doctor begin supportive treatments as soon as possible.
    Advanced Care
    As the condition progresses, more care may be needed. Some advanced care options include:
    • Mechanical ventilation—to take over breathing
    • Drainage procedure or decompression craniotomy—to reduce pressure in the brain
  • Prevention

    The exact cause of Reye syndrome is not known, but the following may decrease the risk of Reyes syndrome:
    • Do not give aspirin to children and teens with a current or recent viral infection. Check with your doctor before giving aspirin to a child or teen.
    • Avoid giving children and teens medications that contain salicylates. Examples include Alka-Seltzer, Anacin, Bufferin, and Pepto-Bismol.

    Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics

    National Reye's Syndrome Foundation


    About Kids Health—The Hospital for Sick Children

    Alberta Human Services


    Reye Syndrome. American Liver Foundation website. Available at: Updated October 4, 2011. Accessed August 5, 2013.

    Reyes syndrome. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: Accessed February 28, 2013. Updated September 25, 2009. Accessed August 5, 2013.

    What is Reyes Syndrome? National Reyes Syndrome website. Available at: Accessed August 5, 2013.

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