Reye's Syndrome

  • Medical Author:
    David Perlstein, MD, MBA, FAAP

    Dr. Perlstein received his Medical Degree from the University of Cincinnati and then completed his internship and residency in pediatrics at The New York Hospital, Cornell medical Center in New York City. After serving an additional year as Chief Pediatric Resident, he worked as a private practitioner and then was appointed Director of Ambulatory Pediatrics at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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What causes Reye's syndrome?

Although there has been extensive research into the cause of Reye's syndrome, it is still not completely understood. As mentioned above, the use of aspirin or aspirin-containing medications to treat children with some viral infections including chickenpox, influenza, and gastroenteritis has been shown to be associated with the development of the disease. Ultimately, the causes of symptoms associated with Reye's syndrome relate to dysfunction of the liver and a resultant increase in serum ammonia levels and other toxins. These toxins cause increased pressure in the brain and swelling, leading to brain dysfunction and can progress to death.

What are risk factors for Reye's syndrome?

Most children diagnosed with Reye's syndrome have a history of a recent viral infection. Chickenpox and influenza are identified most often, though rotavirus (a cause of bowel inflammation or gastroenteritis) has also been described. In addition to the recent viral infection, most have a history of taking aspirin to control fever. Some researchers have suggested that children with undiagnosed metabolic disorders may also be at risk, though this is not completely clear.

What are Reye's syndrome symptoms and signs?

The primary symptoms of Reye syndrome include uncontrolled vomiting and mental-status changes. These symptoms are generally the result of increased intracranial pressure and brain swelling. If untreated and progressive, the disease is fatal. Even if identified and treated early, some patients will still have progressive disease resulting in death or permanent brain damage.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/28/2016
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