A teenage girl holding her stomach with a hand clamped over her mouth.
Reye's syndrome can cause extreme fatigue and consistent episodes of vomiting.

What is Reye's Syndrome?

What is Reye’s syndrome? Reye’s syndrome is a rare condition that can lead to life-threatening brain and liver damage. Typically, it affects individuals under 20 years of age, but it can also impact all ages. In this article, we are going to explore everything about this rare disorder, including what causes it, the symptoms, the risk factors, and the treatment options available.

What Causes Reye’s Syndrome?

Usually, Reye’s syndrome occurs in teenagers or children after they have recovered from a flu, cold, or chickenpox. Experts have discovered that a major risk factor is taking aspirin as part of this recovery process. This is why you may hear the advice to avoid giving your child aspirin when flu-like or chickenpox symptoms arise. Instead, it is recommended to use acetaminophen, such as Tylenol, or ibuprofen, such as Advil or Motrin.

Overall, the cause of Reye’s Syndrome is not entirely known. Mostly, what we know is that there are certain factors that can play a role in its development, such as taking aspirin.

There is also a higher chance of someone experiencing Reye’s Syndrome if they have a disorder where the body struggles to break down fatty acids or if they have been exposed to toxins, such as insect or weed killing chemicals.

How Does It Affect the Body?

What exactly happens during Reye’s syndrome? Essentially, the body’s cells become swollen. This leads to a buildup of fats in the body, which leads to a big drop in blood sugar levels. At the same time, ammonia and acidic levels increase, and this can lead to major health consequences.

Vital organs swell, such as the liver and the brain. Ultimately, if not treated fast enough, these organs can also begin to malfunction, leading to death.

Below the surface, experts believe that the mitochondria (the powerhouses of the body’s cells) have become damaged. This results in a loss of energy supply to vital organs, like the liver and brain, and this is where toxins buildup and swelling occurs.

Symptoms of Reye’s Syndrome

So, what signs and symptoms should you watch out for?

Typically, these symptoms will arise days after a viral infection. These symptoms may include:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Rapid breathing
  • Seizures
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Repeated vomiting
  • Sudden behavioral change
  • Weakness in the legs or arms
  • Confusion

It’s crucial to seek emergency medical care when these symptoms arise, especially if your child loses consciousness or experiences seizures or fits. While Reye’s syndrome is not curable, it can be managed through medications to stop the swelling and other symptoms. We’ll talk about this in more detail in a later section of this article.

You May Also Like

Risk Factors

Those who are most likely to be diagnosed with Reye’s syndrome are teenagers and children with fatty acid oxidation disorders. In other cases, it may arise as an underlying metabolic condition.

As previously mentioned, giving your child aspirin can increase the chances of Reye’s syndrome.

It’s also worthwhile to mention that this condition is very rare. In fact, on average, only 20 cases of Reye’s syndrome are reported each year, with a survival rate of 80%.

Treatment Options

Reye’s syndrome requires immediate medical attention. Your child may have to go to intensive care so doctors can properly diagnose and manage the condition.

Generally, the goal of treatment is to support critical organs, like the liver and brain, as well as to manage the symptoms associated with this syndrome.

While, again, there is no cure, initial treatment may involve:

  • IV fluids to help your child stay hydrated
  • Diuretics to help reduce swelling
  • Specific medications to prevent bleeding
  • Plasma and platelets to help if there is liver bleeding

A ventilator may also be used to help your child breath properly. Vital functions are monitored throughout the entire process.

Further medication that may be necessary includes corticosteroids and insulin. Corticosteroids may help bring down any brain swelling, and insulin helps improve glucose metabolism.

The importance of getting immediate care should not be underestimated. Long-term complications can arise with Reye’s syndrome, such as:

  • Decreased attention span
  • Loss of hearing or vision
  • Language or speech problems
  • Movement difficulties
  • Swallowing issues

The above complications may happen due to long-term brain damage. However, most children make a full recovery.

Prevention is Always Best

Knowledge is truly powerful. Knowing the symptoms, signs, and causes of Reye’s syndrome can help you and your family avoid and prevent it. It’s scary to watch your child get rushed to the ER, but knowing how to care for your child when they are sick, without putting them at risk, can help lower chances of a medical emergency.

If you notice any symptoms arise, call for medical emergency immediately. Even if Reye’s syndrome is not happening, these symptoms could be a sign of meningitis or encephalitis. Getting the proper medical team working on a diagnosis and treatment right away is the highest priority in these circumstances.