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Reye syndrome is a rare but serious disease that most often affects children ages 6 to 12 years old. It can cause brain swelling and liver damage. It may be related to using aspirin to treat viral infections.
Reye syndrome can lead to brain damage, liver damage, and death. But if the disease is found and treated early, most children recover from Reye syndrome in a few weeks and have no lasting problems.
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.
Reye syndrome often starts when a child is recovering from a viral illness, such as the flu or chickenpox. Symptoms usually appear 3 to 7 days after the viral illness starts. They may develop over several hours to a day or two.
The first symptoms may include:
As liver damage and brain damage get worse, other symptoms may develop, including:
If Reye syndrome is not treated quickly, it can cause death.
If your child has symptoms of Reye syndrome, get medical care right away, even if your child has not had a recent viral illness or taken aspirin. Early treatment makes full recovery more likely.
Your doctor will do a physical exam and ask questions about your child's symptoms, recent aspirin use, and past health problems.
Your child may need tests such as blood and urine tests, a liver biopsy, a CT scan of the head, and a lumbar puncture (spinal tap).
Reye syndrome is always treated in a hospital, often in the intensive care unit (ICU). The goal is to stop damage to the brain and liver and to prevent other problems. While in the hospital, your child will receive medicines to reduce brain swelling and will get other supportive care.
Reye syndrome can be scary for you and your child. Remember that most children recover with no problems. To help yourself and your child feel better:
The most important step you can take to prevent Reye syndrome is to not give aspirin or any product that contains aspirin to anyone younger than age 20 unless a doctor has prescribed it.
Always read the label before giving medicine to your child. Aspirin is found in many over-the-counter medicines, including ones you might not expect it to be in, such as Pepto-Bismol, Kaopectate, and Alka-Seltzer. Aspirin is also called:
Some childhood health problems may require treatment with aspirin. In these cases, make sure you have clear guidance from your doctor about giving aspirin to your child. If your child is taking aspirin and gets chickenpox or the flu, call your doctor right away.
Other Works Consulted
Brown LW (2006). Reye syndrome. In FD Burg et al., eds., Current Pediatric Therapy, 18th ed., pp. 417–420. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
Hurwitz ES (2009). Reye syndrome. In RD Feigin et al., eds., Feigin and Cherry's Textbook of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, 6th ed., vol. 1, pp. 693–694. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
Current as of:
May 27, 2020
Author: Healthwise StaffMedical Review: John Pope MD - PediatricsKathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Current as of: May 27, 2020
John Pope MD - Pediatrics & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
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