A sporadic condition, Reye’s syndrome causes swelling of the brain and liver tissue. Reye’s syndrome affects children and teenagers, though it can happen at any age. Such a child may have had a viral infection recently like chickenpox or flu. Reye’s syndrome and aspirin intake are closely related. Relieving a headache in a child suffering from viral infection greatly increases the risk of developing this condition, which begins within hours. Both early diagnosis and prompt management of symptoms can save a child’s life.
Causes Of Reye’s Syndrome
The root cause of Reye’s syndrome is presently unknown. Though some believe aspirin intake may be the trigger for the disorder’s symptoms, it is the disturbance in fatty acid oxidation common in all cases of Reye’s syndrome.
Fatty acid oxidation is a process that happens in the liver. Several hormones and enzymes take part in this process. The absence of any one of them can disturb the breakdown of fatty acids in the body. Such fatty acid oxidation disorders are genetically acquired (inherited). One of the most common ones is the deficiency of the medium-chain acyl-CoA dehydrogenase (MCAD) enzyme.
So if your child suffers from such a fatty acid oxidation disorder and takes aspirin to relieve the symptoms associated with flu or any other viral disease, he/she is at high risk of developing Reye’s syndrome. That is why children and teenagers with a family history of fatty acid oxidation disorders should never take aspirin, especially if recovering from chickenpox or flu.
Symptoms Of Reye’s Syndrome
The signs and symptoms of Reye’s syndrome generally occur within days of contracting a viral infection as flu, cold, chickenpox, or upper respiratory tract infection. The early symptoms in children under two years of age include:
- Rapid and shallow breathing
While in older children and teenagers, the early symptoms are:
- Persistent vomiting
- Fatigue and lethargy
As the condition worsens, the symptoms become more intense and severe due to changes in brain tissue. These include:
- Aggressive behavior that sounds unreasonable
- State of confusion
- Disorientation with the onset of hallucinations (seeing things or hearing sounds not present)
- Weakness in the arms and legs that may progress to paralysis
- Seizure activity
- Both extreme lethargy and fatigue
- A diminished level of consciousness
The underlying changes in the body that lead to these symptoms generally include:
- A drop in blood sugar levels
- Increased acidity of the blood due to rising ammonia levels
- Swelling of the liver tissue
- The appearance of fatty deposits in the liver
- Swelling of the brain tissue
It is crucial to act quickly in case of the development of any of these symptoms when they occur in a child recovering or suffering from a viral infection.
How Is This Condition Diagnosed?
There are presently no specific tests to diagnose Reye’s syndrome.
The presenting signs and symptoms coupled with a family history of Reye’s syndrome may lead the doctor to suspect the condition.
However, a doctor may call for some tests to rule out other causes of liver or neurological issues. These include:
- Liver biopsy
- Spinal tap
- CT- scan and MRI of brain
Treatment Of Reye’s Syndrome
The treatment of Reye’s syndrome is based on symptomatic relief of the condition. Close monitoring of the vital signs of the child is also critical. Some cases may require admission to an intensive care unit.
The management of the condition includes:
- Intravenous fluids like glucose and electrolytes
- Diuretics to decrease the fluid overload in the brain
- Medications like vitamin K, plasma and platelets to prevent bleeding due to liver dysfunction
- Other medicines like insulin to maintain blood sugar levels and steroids to decrease brain swelling
- Measures to keep the body temperature within safe limits (cooling blankets)
Prognosis of Reye’s Syndrome
The prognosis of the condition is good, with most children surviving the event. Delay in treatment may result in varying degrees of brain damage, coma, or even death within a few days.
Does A Painkiller Help?
Aspirin is generally a safe drug. Medical professional will usually prescribe it for children over three years of age. However, there is no way to identify high-risk cases except for screening tests done for fatty acid oxidation disorders. Prevention and caution are the only ways to safeguard against Reye’s syndrome.
Children with viral infections should never take aspirin. Specifically, this includes aspirin and other pain killer brands that contain aspirin.
The responsibility befalls the parents or somebody older at home who are the caregivers. It should be noted that aspirin may be found in some unexpected products like herbal supplements, over-the-counter painkillers and alternative remedies.
Not all pain killers are retailed as aspirin, but they may contain aspirin (for example, Alka-Seltzer). Aspirin is also retailed under some chemical names as acetylsalicylic acid, acetylsalicylate, salicylic acid, and salicylate. Some children may have conditions (Kawasaki Disease) that require them to take long-term aspirin therapy. These children must get vaccinated against viral infections like chickenpox and flu to cut back their chances of getting infected.Some of the safe painkiller alternatives to aspirin for high-risk cases include medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin).