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Reyes Syndrome
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Reye's syndrome

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Diseases & Conditions  

Reye's syndrome is a disorder principally affecting the liver and
brain, marked by rapid development of life-threatening neurological symptoms. Reye's Syndrome should be suspected when vomiting begins 3 to 7 days after the onset of flu or chickenpox.

In Reye's syndrome, the level of ammonia and acidity in the blood typically rises while the level of sugar drops. At the same time, the liver may swell and develop fat deposits. Swelling also may occur in the brain and can cause emergency symptoms such as seizures or convulsions. Reye's syndrome can eventually lead to a coma and brain death.

Many people assume the decline is due to the warnings against children taking aspirin, but that may be only part of the reason.

Better tests can diagnose metabolic conditions formerly thought to be Reye's syndrome. Today children who develop Reye's syndrome or conditions once thought to be Reye's syndrome receive an earlier diagnosis and better treatment, which help improve recovery and reduce complications.

Signs and symptoms

The signs and symptoms of Reye's syndrome typically begin about one week after a viral infection such as influenza or chickenpox. After a child appears to be recovering from a viral illness, he or she may suddenly become much more seriously ill.

Children first tend to exhibit these signs:

  • Persistent nausea and vomiting

  • Decline in mental alertness

  • Unusual sleepiness or lethargy

  • Delirious or disoriented behavior

  • Combative behavior

These symptoms may worsen within hours.

As Reye's syndrome progresses, children may develop even more serious signs, including:

  • Stupor

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Seizures or convulsions

These signs and symptoms require emergency treatment.


Reye's syndrome tends to occur in previously healthy children about a week after common viral infections such as influenza or chickenpox. It can also develop after an ordinary upper respiratory infection such as a cold. The precise reason is unknown, but using aspirin to treat a viral illness or infection may trigger the condition in children.

Reye's syndrome may be a metabolic condition — one without symptoms (asymptomatic) — that's unmasked by viral illnesses. Reye's syndrome occurs most commonly in children between the ages of 4 and 12.

When to seek medical advice

Reye's syndrome can develop rapidly, so it's important to take prompt action if you suspect your child has the condition. Call your pediatrician if your child becomes unusually sleepy or lethargic or begins to exhibit sudden mental changes or combative behavior following a bout with influenza or chickenpox. If your child loses consciousness or has convulsions or seizures, seek emergency medical assistance immediately.

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