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Reye's Syndrome: Why Aspirin Can Kill

Reye's Syndrome: Why Aspirin Can Kill
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  • 0:08 A Brain and Liver Disease
  • 0:40 What Is Reye's Syndrome?
  • 1:07 Why Does Reye's…
  • 2:11 Signs, Symptoms, and…
  • 3:55 Treatment
  • 4:44 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Artem Cheprasov
We'll discuss how aspirin relates to a condition known as Reye's syndrome. You'll find out if we really know what causes it to occur, what age group is most at risk, and why if you're sick with the flu you might want to watch out for this condition.

A Brain and Liver Disease

Your brain. It's used for thinking, interpreting why someone is really bad at singing on American Idol, and trying to block out the drone of your annoying little brother.

Your liver. It helps to detoxify your body after a bad hangover, produces proteins to keep you from looking all swollen, and makes molecules necessary to digest that pizza you had with the beer.

The liver and brain seem like they don't have much in common. Except for one extremely rare but often deadly disease we're going to cover in this lesson.

What is Reye's Syndrome

This disease is known as Reye's syndrome. This syndrome is a very rare condition that commonly affects children recovering from a viral infection and causes the swelling of the liver and brain.

So, if someone between the ages of about 4 and 14 years of age is recovering from or is affected by something like chickenpox or influenza, this disease can strike them. And you thought being itchy or sick with the flu was bad enough!

Why Does Reye's Syndrome Occur?

Unlike the flu and chickenpox, no one is actually sure exactly why this syndrome occurs in the pathophysiological sense. What we do know is that individuals who have a viral infection and take aspirin, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug used to reduce fever, relieve minor pain, and inflammation, may be more likely to develop this condition.

Aspirin is not the only thing that may contribute to the development of this condition. Exposure to other chemicals, such as herbicides, insecticides, and so forth, may be a contributing factor as well. Other research may point in the direction that children with underlying Metabolic Disorders, disorders that interfere with the body's life sustaining chemical reactions, may be at increased risk for this syndrome.

Metabolic disorders include, but aren't limited to, diabetes, hyperthyroidism, Cushing's disease and so on. Particularly, in the case of Reye's syndrome, fatty-acid oxidation disorders may play a part in this condition.

Clinical Signs, Symptoms, and Diagnostics

Regardless of what truly causes this disorder to develop, children who are affected by this syndrome typically experience a combination of the following signs and symptoms in addition to the ones they have from the viral infection they are suffering from. These include:

  • Frequent vomiting
  • Muscle weakness
  • Behavioral changes such as irritability or mental dullness
  • Seizures

Laboratory tests may reveal liver issues by the presence of increased levels of liver enzymes and elevated levels of ammonia in the blood. When the liver is inflamed or damaged due to something, as in the case of Reye's syndrome, it will leak enzymes found in the liver into the blood, where they will be found when a blood test is run. You can liken this leakage to an above ground pool having holes punched into it. After this damage occurs, the pool will begin to leak out the water and little balls that were thrown in there to play with. The same type of process happens with a damaged liver.

In addition, the liver is important in converting ammonia to urea. If the liver isn't functioning well, then it cannot perform this process, leading to higher than normal levels of ammonia in the blood.

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