Reye's syndrome

Originally Published: March 21, 1997 - Last Updated / Reviewed On: June 25, 2012
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Dear Alice,

I survived Reye's Syndrome as a child - with no known side effects. Now, years later, I would like to learn more about Reye's, but can find very little information. Do you have any ideas where to look? Thanks!

Dear Reader,

Reye's syndrome is a poorly understood disease that often goes unrecognized and misdiagnosed. Reye's Syndrome is a deadly disease that can quickly lead to life-threatening symptoms for children, teens, or adults without warning. The symptoms of Reye's syndrome are frequently mistaken for meningitis, encephalitis, diabetes, poisoning, or mental illness, among others. Consider yourself  lucky that Reye's was diagnosed early enough for you to have received successful treatment.

Reye's syndrome affects all organs of the body; but, the liver and brain are most prone to damage. In addition to an increase in brain pressure, Reye's syndrome causes an abnormal accumulation of fat in the liver and other organs. You cannot "catch" Reye's Syndrome — it is not contagious. In almost all cases, the development of Reye's follows a viral infection (e.g., chicken pox, cold, and influenza), usually as the person is beginning to recover from the first illness. Most cases of Reye's occur in children under the age of 15; however, very few cases of Reye's have been reported in adults.

Some research has made an association between taking aspirin for viral infections and the development of Reye's syndrome. For this reason, the U.S. Surgeon General, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have all issued recommendations advising against giving aspirin, or aspirin-containing medications, to children under 19 years of age when they have viral infections. This includes other salicylate containing medications, over the counter products, and topical use products as well. Reye's syndrome can still occur if aspirin is not taken; however, heeding this advice can reduce the chances of developing the disease.

Early diagnosis of Reye's syndrome is crucial to preventing brain damage, which can result in mental and physical disabilities. Once diagnosed, the disease can be managed, primarily through measures that reduce swelling in the brain. Some people recover completely from Reye's syndrome; others do not. Recovery is related to the severity of swelling in the brain. Long-term effects of Reye's run the gamut from no long-term effects to slight to severe brain damage (although severe effects tend to be unusu al). In cases where a person survives Reye's but with some damage, the long-term effects usually involve subtle learning disabilities.

If you have more questions, you can check out the website of the National Reye's Syndrome Foundation, or give them a call at (800) 233-7393.