Kawasaki disease is a condition that causes inflammation in the walls of small- and medium-sized arteries throughout the body, including the coronary arteries, which supply blood to the heart muscle. Kawasaki disease is also called mucocutaneous lymph node syndrome because it also affects lymph nodes, skin, and the mucous membranes inside the mouth, nose and throat.
Signs of Kawasaki disease, such as a high fever and peeling skin, can be frightening. The good news is that Kawasaki disease is usually treatable, and most children recover from Kawasaki disease without serious problems.
Kawasaki disease symptoms appear in phases.
When to see a doctor
Treating Kawasaki disease within 10 days of its onset may greatly reduce the chances of lasting damage.
No one knows what causes Kawasaki disease, but scientists don't believe the disease is contagious from person to person. A number of theories link the disease to bacteria, viruses or other environmental factors, but none has been proved. Certain genes may increase your child's susceptibility to Kawasaki disease.
Three things are known to increase your child's risk of developing Kawasaki disease, including:
Kawasaki disease is a leading cause of acquired heart disease in children. About 1 in 5 children with the disease develops heart problems, but only a small percentage have lasting damage.
Heart complications include:
Any of these complications can damage your child's heart. Inflammation of the coronary arteries can lead to weakening and bulging of the artery wall (aneurysm). Aneurysms increase the risk of blood clots forming and blocking the artery, which could lead to a heart attack or cause life-threatening internal bleeding.
For a small percentage of children who develop coronary artery problems, Kawasaki disease is fatal, even with treatment.
Preparing for your appointment
You'll probably first see your family doctor or pediatrician. However, in some cases your child may also be referred to a doctor who specializes in treating children's hearts (pediatric cardiologist).
Because appointments can be brief and there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, as well as what you can expect from your child's doctor.
What you can do
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions will help you make the most of your appointment. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For Kawasaki disease, some basic questions to ask your child's doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask any additional questions that may come up during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
What you can do in the meantime
Tests and diagnosis
There's no specific test available to diagnose Kawasaki disease. Diagnosis largely is a process of ruling out diseases that cause similar signs and symptoms, including:
The doctor may do a physical examination and have your child take other tests to help in the diagnosis. These tests may include:
Treatments and drugs
To reduce the risk of complications, your child's doctor will want to begin treatment for Kawasaki disease as soon as possible after the appearance of signs and symptoms, preferably while your child still has a fever. The goals of initial treatment are to lower fever and inflammation and prevent heart damage.
To accomplish those goals, your child's doctor may recommend:
Because of the risk of serious complications, initial treatment for Kawasaki disease usually is given in a hospital.
After the initial treatment
However, if your child develops flu or chickenpox during treatment, he or she will need to stop taking aspirin. Taking aspirin has been linked to Reye's syndrome, a rare but serious illness that can affect the blood, liver and brain of children and teenagers after a viral infection.
Without treatment, Kawasaki disease lasts an average of 12 days, though heart complications may be evident later and be longer lasting. With treatment, your child may start to improve soon after the first gamma globulin treatment.
Monitoring heart problems
Coping and support
Find out all you can about Kawasaki disease so that you can make informed choices with your child's health care team about treatment options. Keep in mind that most children with Kawasaki disease recover completely, though it may be a little while before your child is back to normal and not feeling so tired and irritable. The Kawasaki Disease Foundation offers trained support volunteers to families currently dealing with the disease.
Last Updated: 2011-01-28
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