Reye’s (Ryes) syndrome is a rare but serious condition that causes swelling in the liver and brain. Reye’s syndrome most often affects children and teenagers recovering from a viral infection, most commonly the flu or chickenpox.
Signs and symptoms such as confusion, seizures and loss of consciousness require emergency treatment. Early diagnosis and treatment of Reye’s syndrome can save a child’s life.
What causes Reye Syndrome?
Experts don’t know what causes Reye syndrome. It often happens in children who have recently had chickenpox or the flu and who took medicines that contain aspirin.
Reye syndrome cannot spread from child to child.
Signs and Symptoms of Reye’s Syndrome
The signs and symptoms of Reye syndrome almost always follow the start of a viral illness, such as an upper respiratory tract infection (a cold, the flu, etc.), a diarrheal illness, or chickenpox. Many cases are mild and may even go undetected; others can be severe and need aggressive care.
Reye syndrome can start from 1 day to 2 weeks after a viral infection. The viral illnesses that lead to it are contagious, but the syndrome itself is not.
- frequent vomiting
- tiredness or sleepiness
- in babies, diarrhea and rapid breathing
- irritability or aggressive behavior
Other symptoms include changes in vision, difficulty hearing, and abnormal speech. In the later stages, a child may behave irrationally; be confused; or have severe muscle weakness, seizures, and loss of consciousness. There usually is no fever.
Reye syndrome is now very rare, and only a few cases a year are reported in the United States. It should be considered, though, if a child is vomiting a lot or shows a change in mental status or behavior, particularly after a recent viral illness.
What are risk factors for Reye’s Syndrome?
Most children diagnosed with Reye’s syndrome have a history of a recent viral infection. Chickenpox and influenza are identified most often, though rotavirus (a cause of bowel inflammation or gastroenteritis) has also been described. In addition to the recent viral infection, most have a history of taking aspirin to control fever. Some researchers have suggested that children with undiagnosed metabolic disorders may also be at risk, though this is not completely clear.