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Kawasaki Disease – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

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Kawasaki disease is a rare medical condition that causes inflammation (swelling) in the walls of medium-sized arteries all over the body. It mainly affects children. The inflammation is more likely to affect the coronary arteries supplying blood to the heart muscle.

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The Kawasaki disease is sometimes referred to as the mucocutaneous lymph node syndrome because it may affect glands that become swollen during an infection (lymph nodes), skin, and the mucous membranes inside the throat, mouth, and nose.

Some of the signs of Kawasaki disease, like peeling skin and high fever, can be frightening. However, there is almost no need to fear as Kawasaki disease is mostly treatable, and children who get affected by it recover in no time without any severe complications.

Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of Kawasaki disease usually show up in three different phases.

1st phase

The signs and symptoms of the first phase of the Kawasaki disease may include:

  • Very red eyes but with the absence of a thick discharge.
  • A fever that is usually above 102.2 F (39 C) and lasts longer than half a week.
  • A rash in the genitals area and on the central part of the body.
  • Swollen, red skin on the patient’s palms and the soles of the feet
  • Red, dry, and cracked lips, as well as a very red, and swollen tongue
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the patient’s neck and perhaps elsewhere
  • Irritability

2nd phase

In the second phase of the Kawasaki disease, a child may develop the following:

  • Joint pain
  • Peeling of the skin, usually on the hands and feet, most likely the tips of the fingers and toes in large sheets.
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting

3rd phase

By the third phase of the Kawasaki disease, the signs and symptoms disappear slowly unless there are complications. It may take as long as eight weeks before patient energy levels become healthy again.

When to see a doctor?

If you notice a child has a fever that doesn’t disappear after three days, contact your doctor for immediate examination and treatment. Also, consult your child’s doctor if he or she has a fever together with at least four or more of the signs and symptoms below:

  • A very red, swollen tongue
  • Redness in both eyes
  • Skin peeling
  • Redness of the palms or soles
  • A rash
  • Swollen lymph nodes

It is vital to treat Kawasaki disease within the first ten days of when it started as this may considerably lessen the chances of any lasting damage.

What are the causes of Kawasaki disease?

No one has been able to identify what causes the Kawasaki disease, but scientists have not stated that the disease is contagious from one person to another.

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A number of theories have tried to link the Kawasaki disease to viruses, bacteria, or other environmental factors. However, none of these has been proved. What has been confirmed is that specific genes may make a child more likely to suffer a Kawasaki disease.

Risk factors

Some things are known to increase the possibility of your child developing the Kawasaki disease.

  • Age. Kids below five years of age are more likely to deal with the Kawasaki disease.
  • Sex. Boys are somewhat more likely to develop Kawasaki disease than girls.
  • Ethnicity. Kids of either Asian or Pacific Island descent, like Japanese or Korean children, have a greater chance of getting the Kawasaki disease.

Complications

The Kawasaki disease is a primary cause of acquired heart disease in kids. However, with the right treatment, only a small percentage of children suffer lasting damage from the Kawasaki disease.

Heart complications include:

  • Inflammation of the heart muscle
  • Inflammation of the blood vessels, mostly the coronary arteries responsible for supplying blood to the heart
  • Heart valve problems

Anyone of the above complications can cause damage to your child’s heart. An inflammation of the coronary arteries can cause a weakening and an eventual bulging of the artery wall (this is called aneurysm). Aneurysms cause an increased risk of blood clots, which may lead to a heart attack or even lead to life-threatening internal bleeding.

For a small percentage of kids who suffer coronary artery issues, Kawasaki disease can lead to death, even after they have had treatment.

Diagnosis

There’s no particular test available to aid the diagnose of Kawasaki disease. The diagnosis has to do with completely ruling out other conditions that lead to similar signs and symptoms. These diseases include:

  • Scarlet fever, caused by the streptococcal bacteria and leads to rash, fever, chills and sore throat
  • Measles
  • Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis
  • Stevens-Johnson syndrome, which is a disorder that affects the mucous membranes
  • Toxic shock syndrome
  • Specific tick-borne illnesses, like the Rocky Mountain, spotted fever

Your child’s doctor will have to do a physical examination and order urine and blood tests to aid in the diagnosis. The tests your child’s doctor will carry out may include the following:

Blood tests: Blood tests are needed to help rule out other illnesses and also check your child’s blood cell count. The first signs of Kawasaki disease that can be revealed by a blood test are a high white blood cell count as well as the presence of anemia.

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Also, testing for a substance known as B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP) which is released when a person’s heart is under stress, may aid in the diagnosis of Kawasaki disease. However, there is a need for more studies to confirm this finding.

Electrocardiogram: This involves the attachment of electrodes to the skin of a patient to measure the electrical impulses of the heartbeat. It has been discovered that Kawasaki disease can lead to heart rhythm issues.

Echocardiogram: This test requires the aid of ultrasound images to reveal how well the child’s heart is working and can aid the identification of the problem attacking the coronary arteries.

Treatment

To reduce the likelihood of Kawasaki disease-related complications, your child’s doctor will have to begin treatment for the disease as soon as possible, preferably while the child still has a fever. The purpose of initial treatment is mainly to reduce fever and inflammation and avoid heart damage.

Treatment for Kawasaki disease may include:

Gamma globulin: The infusion of an immune protein (gamma globulin) via a vein (intravenously) may reduce the possibility of coronary artery issues.

Aspirin: With doctor’s supervision, high doses of aspirin can help treat inflammation. An added advantage of using aspirin is that it can also reduce pain and joint inflammation, as also reduce the fever.

Kawasaki treatment is one of the few rare exceptions to the general rule that states that aspirin should never be given to kids.

Aspirin has been connected to Reye’s syndrome, which is a rare but potentially life-threatening disease in children recovering from flu or chickenpox. As earlier mentioned in this article, children should only use aspirin under the supervision of a doctor or pediatrician.

Due to the risk of serious complications, the first treatment for Kawasaki disease is often given in a hospital. We hope that you found this article helpful. Please leave a comment below.

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Disclaimer: This article is purely informative & educational in nature and should not be construed as medical advice. Please use the content only in consultation with an appropriate certified medical or healthcare professional.

Emmanuella Ekokotu
Ekokotu Emmanuella is a sociologist and Anthropologist, writer, and fashion model who lives in Benin city, Edo state,Nigeria.
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