Reye's syndrome (RS) has been named after Dr. R. Douglas Reye who published the first study of this syndrome in the year 1963, in 'The Lancet'. It is a fatal illness occurring almost exclusively in children and adolescents. Its clinical characteristics include profuse vomiting and neurological dysfunction, which in acute cases, may progress to delirium, coma, or even death.
Causes of Reye's syndrome
Despite constant and extensive research, the causes of Reye's syndrome are not yet known. However, important indicators have emerged from these investigations. A pattern has been observed in all the cases, that most children affected with this syndrome have a history of an antecedent viral infection, which includes chickenpox, influenza, or gastroenteritis. It was observed that there was a strong relation between the use of aspirin during the preceding viral infection and the onset of this condition. People were made aware of this and doctors were advised to substitute aspirin with some other anaesthetic in these cases, as a result the number of RS patients started declining.
Symptoms of Reye's syndrome
The first indication of the occurrence of this condition is profuse vomiting. Following this, lethargy, sleepiness, and irritability set in. As the illness progresses, the patient often become disoriented, agitated, and may experience seizures or enter into a comatose state. This syndrome causes encephalopathy and fatty degeneration of the liver. Changes in the level of certain liver enzymes present in the blood points toward fatty degeneration.
Diagnosis of Reye's syndrome
When a patient exhibits all the aforementioned symptoms, certain tests are carried out to determine if the person has this syndrome. A blood chemistry test may be carried out to determine low blood sugar (glucose) levels. Liver function tests may be carried out to check for high enzyme levels. Another indicator is the serum ammonia test. If it is higher than normal then it indicates this condition. If required, a liver biopsy or spinal tap may also be conducted. Head CT or head MRI scan may also be used to determine brain's condition and function.
Treatment of Reye's syndrome
Unfortunately, there is no specific line of treatment for this condition. Treatment is dependent on the degree of the illness, and is administered largely to control the symptoms. When a patient affected with this condition is hospitalised, his vital functions are closely monitored. Electrolytes and glucose are provided through IV fluids. Seizures may be controlled with anticonvulsant medication and steroids may be used to reduce brain swelling.
Precautions regarding Reye's syndrome
As treatment is limited and the mortality rate is high, preventive measures are the best bet. The most important thing to remember is to never give or allow a child who is under 18 years of age, to take an aspirin, unless ordered by a physician to do so. Children and adolescents should be given the chickenpox vaccination and, if possible, the influenza one as well. Also, keep away from medications that include aspirin. It is critical to practice these precautions as about one third of Reye's syndrome patients either do not survive, or develop long-term neurological problems.