Named after Australian pathologist R. Douglas Reye, who first reported it as a distinct syndrome in 1963, Reye syndrome is still not well understood. Studies have linked the use of aspirin (also called salicylates) or aspirin-containing medications during viral disease as a factor in the development of Reye syndrome.
Cases have dropped dramatically since this link was discovered and doctors started advising against giving aspirin to kids and teens, especially during viral illnesses.
About Reye Syndrome
Reye syndrome predominantly affects kids between 4 and 14 years old, and occurs most frequently when viral diseases are epidemic, such as during the winter months or following an outbreak of chickenpox or influenza B.
Duration varies with the severity of the disease, which can range from mild and self-limiting to, rarely, death within hours. Although severity varies, Reye syndrome is a potentially life-threatening disorder that should be treated as a medical emergency.
Early detection and treatment are critical — the chances for a successful recovery are greater when Reye syndrome is treated in its earliest stages.
Signs and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of Reye syndrome are almost always preceded by 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, requiring aggressive care.
Reye syndrome can occur 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
- lethargy or sleepiness
- in infants, diarrhea and rapid breathing
- irritability or aggressive behavior
In the later stages, a child may exhibit irrational behavior, confusion, severe muscle weakness, seizures, and loss of consciousness. There is usually no fever.
Other symptoms include changes in vision, difficulty hearing, and abnormal speech.
Reye syndrome is now very rare: only a few cases a year are reported in the United States. It should be considered, however, in a child with frequent vomiting or a change in mental status or behavior — particularly if this occurs after a recent viral illness.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2009 The Nemours Foundation. All rights reserved.
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