There are about 5,000 children, mostly boys under five, diagnosed each year with Kawasaki disease. This rare form of heart disease is characterized by inflammation in the arterial walls. It shows as a sudden, persistent fever, red eyes, red and swollen hands and feet, red bumps or a white coat on the tongue, swollen lymph nodes, and body rash. Other symptoms include a white coating or prominent red bumps on the tongue and swollen lymph nodes. More rare are irritability, diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal pain. Other effects of the disease can be found with blood or urine tests.
Looking at symptoms is all doctors have to go by, however, because there’s no test that can spot the condition directly. However, researchers have recently discovered a protein, called THRIL, that is present in inflammatory disease and may be tied with the severity of Kawasaki symptoms. THRIL is formed by the immune response to incoming pathogens, lending support to the idea that pathogens trigger Kawasaki disease. It is not currently clear what causes Kawasaki disease, though it is believed to be an autoimmune illness, in which the body create an immune response to healthy tissue.
Accurate diagnosis and assessment is vital, because a diagnosis of Kawasaki disease requires immediate hospitalization. Almost all children who are given appropriate treatment—aspirin and immune proteins called gamma globulins, administered intravenously, followed by a course of low-dose aspirin after hospital treatment—survives the disease. One in four patients will have coronary artery problems, however; in addition, Kawasaki disease has been linked to early-onset atherosclerosis, a precursor to heart disease, so survivors should be particularly careful about heart health. That means a balanced diet, avoiding saturated fats, and enough exercise.
However, there are no other long-term complications associate with the disease. Kindergarten time might be lost, but there’s no evidence of any cognitive impairment or developmental delay. Although Kawasaki patients may have seizures in the early stages of the disease, there is no evidence of it leading to seizure disorders later in life. In fact, while it may take a while, most children with Kawasaki syndrome make a complete recovery and go on to lead normal lives.