Reye’s Syndrome

Reye’s Syndrome is a rare but dangerous illness that can develop in children, teenagers, and some adults. Reye’s syndrome generally occurs when you are recovering from a viral infection, such as the flu, a cold, or the chicken pox. It can cause severe changes in the body, including an increase in the acidity of the blood and the accumulation of fatty deposits in the liver. This can lead to brain swelling, convulsions, and even death if left untreated. Unfortunately, Reye’s syndrome can be tricky to diagnose, which makes it difficult for sufferers to get treatment quickly. However, if treatment is provided early, prognosis for the disease is excellent.

How Common is Reye’s Syndrome?
Reye’s syndrome was first discovered in 1963 by an Australian health care professional. Since then, the disease has been found in all countries around the world, including the United States. The peak incidence of the disease was in the 1980s, when more than 500 cases of the syndrome were reported. The number of Reye’s cases has rapidly declined over the past ten years, with fewer than 12 reported last year.

Though Reye’s syndrome is an extremely rare disease, anyone, no matter what their age, gender, or race, is at risk for developing the illness. However, the illness is extremely uncommon in adults, and most commonly occurs in children between the ages of 4 and 12.

What Causes Reye’s Syndrome: The Aspirin Connection
Unfortunately, no one is exactly sure what causes Reye’s syndrome. However, in the past twenty years or so, research has shown a link between aspirin and Reye’s syndrome. It is believed that those children who take aspirin during a viral illness are much more likely to develop Reye’s syndrome. In fact, between 90% and 95% of all past Reye’s patients have used aspirin in order to treat a preceding viral illness. For this reason, the Center for Disease Control now advises against giving any child under the age of 19 aspirin for any purpose.

Reye’s Syndrome Symptoms
The symptoms of Reye’s syndrome typically occur in two separate stages, beginning within six days of an initial viral illness. The first stage of Reye’s syndrome is characterized by the following symptoms:

  • persistent and continuous vomiting
  • listlessness
  • extreme fatigue and drowsiness
  • loss of energy

If left untreated, the symptoms of the syndrome will progress into a more serious stage, characterized by:

  • irritability
  • aggressive behavior
  • convulsions
  • delirium
  • loss of consciousness

Complications Associated with Reye’s Syndrome
Reye’s syndrome is an extremely serious illness that poses a number of severe health risks to the patient. Because it is associated with swelling of the brain, it is possible that a person suffering from Reye’s will experience mild to severe brain damage. This may manifest later on in life as:

  • speech difficulties
  • motor skills problems
  • concentration and attention problems

If left undiagnosed and untreated, a person with Reye’s syndrome can slip in to a coma and die.

Diagnosing Reye’s Syndrome
Unfortunately, Reye’s syndrome is very difficult to diagnose because it is so rare and resembles so many other serious illnesses. It is often mistaken for meningitis and encephalitis. In order to diagnose the disease, these other similar illnesses must be eliminated through a number of different tests, including:

  • lumbar puncture (spinal tap)
  • liver biopsy
  • blood and urine tests

Reyes syndrome is diagnosed based on symptoms and the elimination of these other possible illnesses.

Treating Reye’s Syndrome
It is essential that someone suffering from Reye’s syndrome be treated immediately. If your child develops Reye’s syndrome, he will be admitted to the intensive care unit of your local children’s or teaching hospital. Here, he will receive:

  • intravenous fluids (to help balance blood chemistry)
  • insulin (to help increase blood glucose levels)
  • corticosteroids (to reduce the brain swelling)
  • diuretics (to reduce liver and brain swelling)

When caught in it’s early stages, 90% of Reye’s syndrome sufferers recover fully.

Preventing Reye’s Syndrome
The best way to prevent Reyes syndrome is to avoid giving any child under the age of 19 medicine or creams that contain aspirin. Most aspirin-containing medications now have warning labels on their containers, however, this is not the case with all aspirin-containing medications. Additionally, some medications use alternative names for aspirin, including, salicylate, acetylsalicylate, and salicylate acid. These types of aspirin can be found in:

  • prescription pain medications
  • over-the-counter pain medications
  • prescription and non-prescription acne creams
  • certain face washes and masks
  • certain anti-nauseants
  • baby aspirin

If your child has a fever, it is important to try to reduce the fever without using aspirin. Ask your health care provider for an alternative medication or try to lower the fever using alternative methods, such as sponge bathing or by removing extra bedding and clothing.