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Reye Syndrome

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Dec 2, 2022.

What is Reye syndrome?

Reye syndrome is a rare, but serious condition that can cause injury to your child's brain, liver, or other organs. The cause is unknown. Your child may develop Reye syndrome after a viral infection such as the flu or chickenpox. Your child's risk for Reye syndrome is increased if he or she takes medicine that contains aspirin or salicylates. Reye syndrome most commonly happens to children 4 to 14 years of age.

What are the signs and symptoms of Reye syndrome?

Symptoms may appear after your child begins to get better from a viral infection. Symptoms may also appear after your child takes medicines that contains aspirin or salicylates. Your child may have any of the following:

  • Repeated vomiting or diarrhea
  • Tiredness or sleepiness
  • Fussiness or irritability
  • Trouble breathing or breathing faster than usual
  • Confusion, muscle weakness, or seizures

How is Reye syndrome diagnosed?

Your child's healthcare provider will examine your child. Tell the provider if your child has recently had aspirin, over-the-counter medicine, herbal medicine, or vitamins. Also tell the provider if your child has recently been sick. Your child may need any of the following:

  • Blood tests check your child's liver function and electrolyte levels. Examples of electrolytes include potassium, calcium, and sodium.
  • A CT or MRI may show swelling in your child's brain. Your child may be given contrast liquid to help his or her brain tissue show up better in the pictures. Tell your child's provider if he or she has ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not let your child enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell your child's provider if he or she has any metal in or on his or her body.
  • A lumbar puncture, or spinal tap, may show infection and inflammation in the fluid that surrounds your child's brain and spinal cord. A needle is inserted into your child's spine and a sample of fluid is taken. The sample is sent to a lab and tested.

How is Reye syndrome treated?

There is no cure for Reye syndrome. Early treatment may help prevent damage to your child's brain, liver, and other organs. Your child may need medicines to decrease swelling in his or her brain or prevent seizures or bleeding. IV fluids may be given to treat dehydration and increase his or her blood sugar or electrolyte levels. Electrolytes include potassium, sodium, and calcium. Other medicines or procedures may be needed to treat or prevent life-threatening problems.

How can Reye syndrome be prevented?

  • Do not give your child aspirin or medicines that contain aspirin. Read the label on medicine before you give it to your child. Check your child's medicine labels for aspirin, salicylates, or oil of wintergreen. These substances may be in cold medicines, herbal supplements, or vitamins. Ask your child's healthcare provider which medicines are safe for your child.
  • Ask your child's healthcare provider about vaccines. Vaccines can prevent infections such as the chickenpox or the flu.

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • Your child cannot be woken.
  • Your child has a seizure.
  • Your child has trouble breathing.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your child takes medicine that contains aspirin or salicylates.
  • Your child is confused and irritable.
  • Your child does not stop vomiting.
  • Your child is very weak or has trouble walking.
  • Your child's stomach is painful and larger than usual.
  • Your child urinates less than usual or not at all.
  • Your child's head is sunken in, or your child does not make tears when he or she cries.

When should I contact my child's healthcare provider?

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

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 healthcare providers 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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