What is Reye syndrome?
Reye syndrome is a rare condition that affects the normal chemical balance in the
body, resulting in potential damage to all organs, but primarily affecting the brain
and liver. This condition is most common in children and adolescents following a viral
infection. Reye syndrome usually affects children between the ages of 4 and 12, although
it can occur at any age.
As the inflammation in the brain increases, the pressure inside of the head may also
increase. The increased pressure in the head causes neurological changes in the child.
It has a very rapid onset that can cause the child to go into a coma, or can result
in death within hours of the symptoms.
What causes Reye syndrome?
The exact cause of Reye syndrome is unknown. The more common cases of Reye syndrome
occur in conjunction with a previous viral infection, such as the flu or chicken pox.
Studies show that there is an association between the ingestion of products containing
aspirin in children who have a viral illness and Reye syndrome. As a result, the CDC
and the American Academy of Pediatrics have released warnings to the public about
the relationship between aspirin and Reye syndrome. Parents should not give aspirin
to children unless instructed by your child's doctor. The incidence of Reye syndrome
has fallen since these recommendations were adopted in the 1980s, but it is not clear
if factors other than aspirin are involved, such as specific strains of influenza
that triggered Reye syndrome.
What are the symptoms of Reye syndrome?
The following are the most common symptoms of Reye syndrome. A child may have had
a viral illness such as a respiratory infection, chickenpox, or diarrhea before experiencing
symptoms of Reye syndrome. Symptoms may include:
A full or bulging fontanelle (a soft spot on the top of the head in infants)
Sleepiness or lethargy
Sudden and prolonged vomiting
Rapid breathing and heart rate
Increased intracranial pressure
The symptoms of Reye syndrome may look like other conditions or medical problems.
Always consult your child's doctor for a diagnosis.
How is Reye syndrome diagnosed?
The diagnosis of Reye syndrome is made after the sudden onset of specific symptoms
and after diagnostic testing. During a physical exam, your child's doctor will take
a complete medical history of your child. Your child's doctor may also ask if the
child has recently had a cold or other viral illness, and whether the child has taken
aspirin or medication containing aspirin.
Diagnostic tests that may be done to confirm the diagnosis of Reye syndrome include
Blood and liver function tests
Urine and stool tests
Liver biopsy. A small amount of tissue is removed from the liver and studied to help diagnose different
Electroencephalogram (EEG). A procedure that records the brain's continuous, electrical activity by means of electrodes
attached to the scalp.
Lumbar puncture (spinal tap). A special needle is placed into the lower back, into the spinal canal. This is the
area around the spinal cord. The pressure in the spinal canal and brain can then be
measured. A small amount of cerebral spinal fluid (CSF) can be removed and sent for
testing to determine if there is an infection or other problems. CSF is the fluid
that bathes your child's brain and spinal cord.
Intracranial pressure monitoring (ICP). Measures the pressure inside of the child's head.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). A diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of a large magnet, radiofrequencies,
and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.
Treatment of Reye syndrome
Your child’s health care provider will figure out the best treatment based on:
How old your child is
His or her overall health and medical history
How sick he or she is
How well your child can handle specific medications, procedures, or therapies
How long the condition is expected to last
Your opinion or preference
Although there is no cure for Reye syndrome, there are some treatment options. The
key to medically managing Reye syndrome is early detection.
A child with Reye syndrome requires immediate hospitalization in the intensive care
unit and close monitoring by the health care team. This is a serious illness that
can quickly worsen.
The goal of treatment is to monitor and reduce the pressure in the head and to provide
supportive care (treatment of symptoms) to the child. Medications are used to control
the inflammation in the brain, seizures, fever, or other conditions that may be present.
The extent of the problem is dependent on the severity of the condition and the presence
of other organ system problems that could affect the child. In severe cases, a breathing
machine may be required to help the child breathe easier.
Prevention of Reye syndrome
Parents should read medication labels carefully and avoid giving children products
containing aspirin during times of illness. Consult your child's doctor for questions
regarding medications and dosage.