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Reye’s syndrome

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Overview of reye syndrome

Reye’s syndrome is a rare disease which causes multiple organ failures but mostly affects the liver and the brain. The condition alters the chemical composition in the body and is mostly seen causing inflammation in the brain. If untreated, the disease can be fatal within hours of the symptoms.

There is no cure or much knowledge about the cause of this disease, but research has been able to link the adverse affect of use of aspirin and Reye's syndrome. The foundation says that Reye's syndrome is generally a two-phased illness that is almost always associated with a previous viral infection such as influenza (flu), cold, or chicken pox.

The disease also leads to a fatty liver and affects the brain by increasing the pressure. Unless diagnosed and treated successfully, death is common, often within a few days, and even a few hours.


Symptoms of reye syndrome

The symptoms of this disease are varied and become different as time passes. Often characterized into different stages, the stage 1 has symptoms like chronic vomiting, while the disease affecting the brain causes listlessness, fatigue, and drowsiness. Stage 2 may see a change in behavioral pattern as the person gets aggressive. Stage 3 will see further worsening in personality as the person may appear confused, combative and irritated. Stage 4 of the symptoms will in almost all cases lead to a patient getting delirious, and can suffer from convulsions or go into a coma. 

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Causes of reye syndrome

NHS UK says the exact cause of Reye's syndrome is unknown, but most experts agree that a previous viral infection and the use of aspirin are important factors. 

For example, the condition has occurred in children who have been treated with aspirin for a viral infection such as:

Researchers also believe that Reye’s syndrome can be caused due to genetic reasons which may lie dormant for sometime but gets flared up or stirred up due to certain reasons. NHS says this could be a viral infection where a person takes aspirin or one of the active ingredients in aspirin, such as salicylate, that triggers the condition. 


Risk factors for  reye syndrome

The risk for acquiring Reye’s Syndrome is higher during childhood but the disease can happen to anyone. Use of aspirin is the biggest threat for this disease and someone with an underlying fatty liver condition is also at risk. 


Diagnosis of reye syndrome

There are no specific tests for Reye’s syndrome and doctors mainly rely on symptoms and physical examination. Blood tests and testing the liver for fatty acid are some of the initial methods of diagnostics. A blood test would reveal elevated SGOT-SGPT [usually 200 or more units] in the absence of jaundice.

Other methods include: 

  • A computerized tomography (CT) scan, which produces detailed images of the body
  • A method called lumbar puncture that involves taking a sample of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) from the base of the spine and checking to see if it has bacteria or viruses. This helps rule out meningitis or encephalitis.
  • A liver biopsy may be useful as Reye’s syndrome causes distinctive changes to the cells of the liver. 


Treatment of reye syndrome

There is no treatment for Reye’s syndrome and this makes the disease fatal if not treated early and before severe neurological damages take place. Most treatment procedures are aimed at managing the symptoms and lessening the severity of the condition. The supportive treatment mostly involves ensuring that the patients’ airways are clear and there is a good blood circulation. It is essentially to monitor glucose level of the patient and dextrose should be administered to correct hypoglycemia. If the intracranial pressure (ICP) increases due to inflammation of the brain, it may need the attention of a neurologist. If the patient has slipped into a coma, he may be put on ventilation support.


Prevention of reye syndrome

The foremost way to prevent Reye’s syndrome is to use aspirin with care, especially when it comes to children. It would be wise to watch out for medicines with aspirin and other ingredients like acetylsalicylic acid, acetylsalicylate, salicylic acid and salicylate.

Written by: Healthplus24 team
Date last updated: August 01, 2013 

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