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Reye’s Syndrome

This fact sheet answers frequently asked questions about Reye’s Syndrome.

Reye’s syndrome is a rare but serious condition that primarily affects children.

The basics

What is Reye’s syndrome?

It may follow a viral illness such as the flu or chickenpox. While Reye’s syndrome can affect all organs in the body, it most commonly causes swelling of the brain and a large build up of fat in the liver.

Who gets Reye’s syndrome?

The illness usually occurs in children but can occur at any age.

Is Reye’s syndrome contagious?

Reye’s syndrome is not contagious.

What causes Reye’s syndrome?

No one knows what causes Reye’s syndrome. Studies have shown that using aspirin to treat a viral illness can increase the risk of developing Reye’s syndrome in children.


What are the symptoms of Reye’s syndrome?

Early symptoms usually begin suddenly about 1 week after a viral illness, and can include:

  • persistent or continuous vomiting
  • personality changes
  • confusion
  • convulsions
  • loss of energy

The symptoms of Reye’s syndrome can often seem like other illnesses making it difficult to diagnose.


How can I prevent Reye’s syndrome?

Never give a child under 18 years of age aspirin (salicylates) unless told to do so by your healthcare provider. Keep in mind that salicylates are in a wide range of over-the-counter medications such as Pepto-Bismol and compounds containing oil of wintergreen.


What is the treatment for Reye’s syndrome?

There is no specific treatment for Reye’s syndrome. Therapy helps prevention of further brain swelling and other complications. Some people recover completely, while others may have permanent brain problems. Starting treatment early can lead to a  better result.

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