Reye syndrome

General or Other | Gastroenterology | Reye syndrome (Disease)


Reye syndrome, an extremely rare but serious illness that can affect the brain and liver, occurs most commonly in kids recovering from a viral infection.

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.

Causes and Risk factors

Reye syndrome is sudden (acute) brain damage (encephalopathy) and liver function problems of unknown cause. The syndrome has occurred with the use of aspirin to treat chickenpox or the flu in children. However, it has become very uncommon since aspirin is no longer recommended for routine use in children. Although there has been extensive research into the cause of Reyes syndrome, it is still not completely understood.

Diagnosis and Treatment

As mentioned above, the use of aspirin or aspirin-containing medications to treat children with some viral infections including chickenpox, influenza, and gastroenteritis has been shown to be associated with the development of the disease. Ultimately, the causes of symptoms associated with Reyes syndrome relate to dysfunction of the liver and a resultant increase in serum ammonia levels and other toxins. These toxins cause increased pressure in the brain and swelling, leading to brain dysfunction and can progress to death. The most common abnormal laboratory tests with Reyes syndrome include elevated liver enzymes, elevated ammonia levels, and low serum glucose levels.

Treatment is supportive, and even with treatment severe cases result in permanent brain damage and death. No specific treatment exists. Supportive care is based on the stage, with aggressive treatment to correct or prevent metabolic abnormalities, particularly hypoglycemia and hyperammonemia, and to prevent or control cerebral edema.