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Reye's Syndrome


What is Reye's syndrome?

Reye's syndrome (RS) is a potentially life-threatening condition that can cause brain swelling and liver failure. The cause is unknown. Children are the most at risk if they have recently had the flu or chickenpox and take medicine that contains aspirin or salicylates. RS may also affect adolescents and adults.

What are the signs and symptoms of Reye's syndrome?

Signs and symptoms usually appear after your child has had the flu or chickenpox. Your child may have any of the following:

  • Repeated vomiting or diarrhea
  • Fussiness or sleepiness
  • Seizures
  • Confusion, irritability, or seeing things that are not there
  • Trouble breathing
  • Fainting

How is Reye's syndrome diagnosed?

Your child's caregiver will examine your child and ask about previous health conditions. Tell your child's caregiver about all of the medicines that your child is taking or has taken in the past. This includes over-the-counter, herbal medicine, or vitamins. Your child may need one or more of the following tests:

  • Blood tests: These may be done to check your child's liver function.
  • CT scan: This test is also called a CAT scan. An x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures of your child's brain. Your child may be given a dye before the pictures are taken to help caregivers see the pictures better. Tell the caregiver if your child has ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye.
  • Lumbar puncture: This procedure removes a small amount of fluid from your child's spinal cord. A small needle is placed into your child's lower back. Fluid will be removed from around your child's spinal cord and sent to the lab for tests. The test is done to check for increased pressure around your child's brain and spinal cord and for infection.
  • Liver biopsy: This is a procedure where a small piece of your child's liver is removed and tested. Caregivers will use medicine to numb the skin above your child's liver to decrease pain. A long thin needle will be inserted through his skin and into his liver to collect a piece of tissue.

How is Reye's syndrome treated?

The goal of treatment is to decrease swelling in your child's brain and prevent damage to his brain, liver, and other organs.

  • IV fluids: These fluids include glucose and electrolytes (minerals). These are used to help keep your child hydrated.
  • Diuretics: These help your child's body get rid of extra fluid. This can help decrease swelling in his brain and prevent damage. This medicine makes your child urinate more often.
  • Treatments to prevent bleeding: These include vitamin K, platelets, or plasma. Damage to the liver can prevent your child's blood from clotting like it should. These will help replace clotting factors if his liver cannot make them.
  • Dialysis: This procedure removes extra water, chemicals, and waste products from your child's blood. The dialysis machine removes wastes by passing your child's blood through a filter. It then returns the blood back to your child. Your child may also be given medicine or have blood taken for tests during dialysis.

What are the risks of Reye's syndrome?

Even after being treated for RS, your child may have long-term medical problems. If your child is not treated for RS, his brain, liver, and organ damage will get worse. If your child keeps taking a medicine that contains aspirin, his condition will worsen. This can lead to liver failure and brain damage that may become permanent. RS could cause your child to lose consciousness or be life-threatening.

How can Reye's syndrome be prevented?

  • Ask your child's caregiver about vaccinations: Infections such as the flu and chickenpox may be prevented by vaccines.
  • Do not give your child aspirin or medicines that contain aspirin: Read the label on medicine before you give it to your child. Contact your child's caregiver if you do not know if a medicine is safe.
  • Do not give your child herbal or over-the-counter medicine without asking: Do not give your child any medicine unless caregivers tell you to. Medicine that is not ordered or suggested by your child's caregiver may contain salicylates, a medicine similar to aspirin. These can cause Reye's syndrome.

When should I contact my child's caregiver?

Contact your child's caregiver if:

  • Your child has a fever.
  • Your child does not want to eat.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • Your child becomes very hard to wake up.
  • Your child has a seizure.
  • Your child is confused and very irritable.
  • Your child has repeated vomiting.
  • Your child's stomach is painful and swollen.

Where can I find support and more information?

  • National Reye's Syndrome Foundation, Inc
    426 N Lewis St
    Bryan , OH 43506
    Phone: 1- 800 - 233-7393
    Web Address:

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's caregivers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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