Health Q&a

September 09, 2002|by Christine L. Moats

Q:What is Reyes Syndrome?

A: According to the National Reyes Syndrome Foundation (NRSF), Reyes Syndrome is a disease that affects all organs of the body, but most seriously affects the brain and the liver. It is not contagious and the cause is unknown.

The syndrome is often mistaken for illnesses such as meningitis, encephalitis, diabetes, drug overdose, poisoning, Sudden Infant Death syndrome, or psychiatric illness.

Abnormal accumulations of fat begin to develop in the liver and other organs of the body, along with a severe increase of pressure in the brain.


There is a link between Reyes Syndrome and using aspirin or other medications containing salicylates.

Reyes Syndrome can occur in children or adults.

The NRSF website,, has a list of medications containing aspirin or salicylates.

In most cases, Reyes Syndrome follows a viral infection such as the flu, cold or chicken pox. Reported cases of the disease tend to be more frequent during the winter months - January, February, and March when the flu is most common, but can occur any time of the year.

Q: What are the symptoms of Reyes Syndrome?

A: The stages of Reyes Syndrome are as follows:

  • Stage I symptoms

  • Persistent or continuous vomiting

  • Signs of brain dysfunction

  • Listlessness

  • Loss of pep and energy

  • Drowsiness

  • Stage II symptoms

  • Personality changes

  • Irritability

  • Aggressive behavior

  • Disorientation

  • Confusion

  • Irrational behavior

  • Combative behavior

  • Delirium, convulsions, coma

    Q: What treatment should be administered if Reyes Syndrome is suspected?

    A:If Reyes Syndrome is suspected, emergency medical treatment is necessary.

    The likelihood of recovery is much greater if the illness is treated in its earliest stages. Most therapy is directed at treating the brain and reducing the swelling to avoid irreversible brain damage. The liver is also tested in these cases.

    According to the NRSF, recovery is related to the severity of the brain swelling. Some people recover completely. Others may sustain brain damage, extending from slight to severe brain dysfunction. Those who progress rapidly through the stages and lapse into a coma have a poorer prognosis than those with less severe disease.

    Patients can recover without any complications from Reyes Syndrome, but some people suffer brain damage or other disabilities. All people surviving Reyes Syndrome should have a neurological and psychological evaluation after recovery to determine if there are any disabilities.


    Christine L. Moats is wellness coordinator for Washington County Hospital.

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