Kawasaki Disease: A Childhood Disease Every Parent Needs To Know About

If you have never heard of Kawasaki disease, you should, so keep reading. This disease usually strikes children at about age two. It is the leading cause of heart disease in children that occurs after birth. It is not as common as congenital heart disease, but according to the CDC, there are about 5,000 cases diagnosed every year.

Kawasaki heart disease is preventable if you know the symptoms and start treatment early. Because it can look a lot like other viral childhood diseases that cause a rash and fever, the diagnosis is often missed, even by pediatricians. That’s why you need to know the symptoms.

What Is Kawasaki Disease?

 Kawasaki disease causes inflammation of blood vessels (vasculitis) all over a child’s body. It was first described by a Japanese pediatrician – Dr. Tomisaku Kawasaki – in 1967. It is more common in Japan and Asia. In the US, it is more common in children of Asian ancestry, but it can occur in any child. It is twice as common in boys as girls.

Kawasaki disease almost always occurs before age five. The cause remains a mystery. It may be caused by genes passed down through families that are triggered by a viral infection. It is not passed from child to child but outbreaks tend to occur in the fall and spring. Most children will recover, even without treatment, but about 25 percent of children will develop heart problems if not treated.

Signs and Symptoms

 Kawasaki disease starts like many other childhood viral infections with a fever. The fever may last for about five days and be followed by these signs and symptoms:

  • A pink rash that occurs on the arms, legs, and belly
  • Swelling of the hands and feet, soles of the feet may develop a pink to purple color
  • Redness and irritation of the eyes
  • Swollen glands in the neck
  • Inflammation of the mouth and throat that may cause cracked lips, strawberry tongue, and sore throat

Most children will pass through this stage of the disease and recover completely. For some children, the disease will continue after two weeks with peeling of the hands and feet, joint pain, nausea and vomiting, and belly pain. These children are at risk for heart disease if not treated.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosis is made by the signs and symptoms. There is no blood test for this disease. Your child’s doctor may do an imaging study of the heart to look for heart involvement. Kawasaki disease can cause weakening of the arteries that supply the heart, can weaken heart muscle, and cause disease in the valves of the heart. If heart problems develop, they may require life-long care from a cardiologist.

Finally, the good news. Treatment is available and will usually reverse the symptoms as well as protect the heart from complications. Once the diagnosis is made, children are treated with a type of antibody that reverses the vasculitis called immune globulin. This is given intravenously. Children are also treated with aspirin to block inflammation.

Key Takeaways

 Kawasaki disease is the leading cause of acquired heart disease in children.

  • The diagnosis may be missed because the disease is rare and looks like other more common childhood viral infections.
  • Do not ignore the symptoms. Even if your child has already seen the doctor, if these symptoms develop, go back and ask about the possibility of Kawasaki disease.
  • Treatment can reverse the signs and symptoms quickly and prevent long-term heart problems.
Christopher Iliades
Dr. Chris Iliades is a medical doctor with 20 years of experience in clinical medicine and clinical research. Chris has been a full time medical writer and journalist since 2004. His byline appears in over 1,000 articles online including EverydayHealth, The Clinical Advisor, and Healthgrades. He has also written for print media including Cruising World Magazine, MD News, and The Johns Hopkins Children's Center Magazine. Chris lives with his wife and close to his three children and four grandchildren in the Boston area.

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