Signs and Symptoms
- Sudden, continuous vomiting, especially following a flu-like upper respiratory infection or chicken pox
- Confusion, irrational behavior, convulsions, or loss of consciousness
- Irritability, sensitivity to touch, personality changes
- Listlessness, excessive sleepiness, and loss of energy and aggressiveness
- For infants, symptoms include diarrhea, sometimes accompanied by vomiting, respiratory problems, and seizures
Reye’s syndrome was first diagnosed in 1963 and came to public attention during the 1970s, when frequent outbreaks accompanied the onset of flu season. Thanks to consistent public education campaigns, however, just two cases were reported between 1994 and 1997, down from an all-time high of 555 cases in 1980.
Reye’s can affect people of all ages, although it most commonly occurs in people from infancy to young adulthood. Generally appearing three to five days following the onset of a viral illness, Reye’s syndrome occurs without warning and progresses rapidly once symptoms occur. Although the disease is not contagious, it can cause serious damage to the liver and slight-to-severe brain dysfunction. Since there is no cure, early diagnosis is extremely critical. A patient should be observed carefully for symptoms for at least two to three weeks after a viral illness, such as flu or chicken pox (about one-third of cases accompany chickenpox), and a physician should be called immediately if any of the described symptoms develop.
Once physicians learned that the incidence of Reye’s syndrome increased when patients treated viral illnesses with aspirin, or medications containing aspirin, they have been more successful at keeping the number of cases under control. Although there is no conclusive proof linking aspirin usage to Reye’s, physicians now warn against the use of aspirin for viral illnesses.
Conventional Medical Treatment
If treatment begins as soon as possible after the onset of symptoms, there is a 50 to 90 percent chance of full recovery. The risks of lifelong injury increase significantly if Reye’s syndrome is misdiagnosed or if treatment does not begin immediately, since recovery is related to the degree of swelling in the brain.
Reye’s patients should be brought or transferred immediately to an intensive care unit staffed by medical personnel experienced in the treatment of the disease. To screen for Reye’s syndrome, physicians usually perform two liver function tests-SGOT (which tests for the liver enzyme serum glutamic oxaloacetic transaminase) and SGPT (which tests for the liver enzyme serum glutamic pyruvic transaminase). Test results are usually available within two to three hours.
Most patients recover completely from Reye’s syndrome with prompt, effective treatment, although there is the possibility of after-effects, ranging from very slight to severe motor or learning disabilities. The amount of rehabilitation needed varies widely, according to the damage. Those recovering from Reye’s syndrome should be thoroughly evaluated for problems related to memory, attention span, concentration, task completion, speech and language, fine and gross motor skills, and changes in activity levels. Parents should be aware that any of these problems also might result in learning problems in school.
Children who have been hospitalized for Reye’s syndrome also may experience emotional difficulties, such as over-dependency, sleep disturbances, depression, and anxiety. If parents encounter these problems, they may want to seek professional help.
Complementary and Alternative Treatments
Nutrition and Supplementation
Supplements should be given only after the recovery process has begun. Consult your healthcare provider before taking these or any other supplements. The following recommended daily doses are for persons over 18. For children between 12 and 17, use three quarters the dose; for a child between 6 and 12, use half; for a child under 6, use one-quarter the recommended dose.
- branched-chain amino acids (as directed on label)-prevents muscle depletion
- flaxseed oil (as directed on label)-maintains and restores skin suppleness and moisture
- lecithin (1200 mg 3 times daily)-supplies choline, vital in the transmission of nerve impulses and energy production
- vitamin B complex (50 to 100 mg)-supports healing
- vitamin E (400 IU)-protects against free radical damage
(Consult your health care provider regarding the duration of treatment.)