Reye's Syndrome - Description

Reye's syndrome primarily affects children and teenagers. In almost all cases, it follows a viral illness, such as a cold (see common cold entry), the flu (see influenza entry), or chickenpox (see chickenpox entry). The disorder can affect any organ in the body, but its most serious effects occur in the brain and the liver. As the disorder develops, it attacks the body's nervous system. It produces symptoms such as listlessness, confusion, seizures, and coma. In extreme cases, it can lead to death.

Reye's syndrome is a rare disorder. It was first discovered in the early 1970s. The number of cases of Reye's syndrome rose slowly until 1980. In that year, 555 cases of the disorder were diagnosed. Researchers had learned at that point that children who are given aspirin are at risk for Reye's syndrome. Doctors began to warn parents against the use of aspirin with sick children. As a result of those warnings, the number of cases of Reye's syndrome began to fall. By the late 1990s the condition was very rare in the United States.

Reye's syndrome is sometimes confused with other nervous-system disorders. The reason for this confusion is that many doctors have never seen a case of Reye's syndrome. They may diagnose a patient with encephalitis, diabetes, poisoning, or some other condition by mistake. The actual number of cases of Reye's syndrome may therefore be somewhat higher than the official total.

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