Paediatrics, Neurology

Reye’s Syndrome

Introduction to Reye’s Syndrome

Reye’s syndrome is an extremely rare and serious condition that usually follows an acute viral illness such as the flu or chickenpox. It can be fatal and can seriously damage essential organs.

Written by Doctify Team 27/04/2020

What is Reye’s Syndrome?

Reye’s syndrome is an extremely rare and serious condition that usually follows an acute viral illness such as the flu or chickenpox. It can be fatal and can seriously damage essential organs such as the brain and liver. It mostly affects people under the age of 20 but can also occur at any age.

What are the causes for Reye’s Syndrome?

The exact reason why Reye’s syndrome occurs is unknown. There has been as association with aspirin when taken for the viral illness that typically precedes Reye’s syndrome but this method of disease is still not understood. It is believed to be due to damage to mitochondria (powerhouse components of cells) and aspirin could make this worse. Therefore, aspirin is not recommended for children and young adults when suffering from a viral illness. Reye’s syndrome can also occur when the patient did not take any aspirin for the viral illness.

What are the symptoms of Reye’s Syndrome?

Clinical onset of Reye’s syndrome typically begins a few days after a viral infection. The first symptoms include drowsiness, seizures, vomiting, lack of energy and tachypnoea (fast breathing). As the syndrome progresses, the patient can become delirious (severely confused, anxious, irritable, agitated) and can enter a coma (loss of consciousness). Classically, there is also a rash present. The disease causes liver damage and swelling of the brain which is responsible for the listed symptoms.

How is Reye’s Syndrome treated?

After other causes have been ruled out by scans, biopsies, lumbar punctures and blood tests, the treatment for Reye’s syndrome can begin. The treatment involves admission to the intensive care unit as it is such a serious condition. Intravenous fluids and electrolytes are given, anticonvulsants are given to reduce seizures, medications to reduce the amount of ammonia in the blood are given as well as diuretics, which cause the body to secrete excess fluid which allows for a reduction in the swelling of the brain. Breathing assistance may be provided with the use of a machine called a ventilator and if this is done rapidly, there is a strong likelihood of full recovery. Some patients will unfortunately suffer from permanent brain and liver damage as a result and this can lead to long term difficulties involved cognition, memory, carrying out everyday activities, speech and swallowing.

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