What is Kawasaki Disease?
Kawasaki Disease is a type of vasculitis. Eeeek! We said no jargon! So we’ll explain…. “Vasculitis” means inflammation of the blood vessels, the tubes that carry blood around your body.
It is an illness which, in the beginning, usually affects young children. Most children, about 80%, recover well within a few months – but for some, the effects can be long lasting. Children with lasting heart damage caused by Kawasaki Disease will need regular care from doctors for the rest of their lives. How much care and treatment is needed from doctors depends on how serious the heart damage is. Kawasaki Disease affects people differently!
Kawasaki Disease is getting more common in the UK with about 1,000 children going in to hospital with Kawasaki Disease each year. When first ill with Kawasaki Disease, most children affected are quite young, about three quarters are under five years. It can be really serious in very young children – babies under one year old
Kawasaki Disease is on the rise – with the number of children going in to hospital in the UK increasing fast. Nearly four times as many children are being affected now than they were ten years ago. No one really knows why. What we do know though is that Kawasaki Disease is a serious illness which can cause lifelong heart disease in about a quarter of the children it affects.
No-one knows what causes Kawasaki Disease – it’s still a mystery! There’s lots of theories though, as you might imagine. You can find out more about the causes of Kawasaki Disease and lots of other topics on our Questions and Answers page here.
Kawasaki Disease has a range of symptoms which are the same as lots of other children‘s infections and bugs…. This makes it tricky to spot unless you know Kawasaki Disease and you’re looking out for it. Because of this some doctors find it difficult to diagnose. It is often misdiagnosed to begin with, and sometimes children get treatment for another illness (which they haven’t got!) before Kawasaki Disease is accurately diagnosed. Kawasaki Disease is a serious disease because if it isn’t treated, or if it’s treated late, it can cause lifelong heart disease. That means for some children that after Kawasaki Disease they have lifelong heart disease. It’s the TOP cause of acquired heart disease in children in the UK. Really serious stuff.
Dr Tomisaku Kawasaki was a paediatrician in Japan - he was the person who identified Kawasaki Disease in 1967 - that’s why it’s called “Kawasaki Disease”!
Everyone should know Kawasaki Disease
Societi Foundation, the U.K. Foundation for Kawasaki Disease, does tonnes of work to get Kawasaki Disease known by doctors and parents. You’ll probably know already though, that lots of people have never heard of it! Getting Kawasaki Disease known so children can be quickly treated, as soon as they are first ill, is really important. This is because we know children have a better chance of a good recovery if they quickly get specialist treatment.
Symptoms of Kawasaki Disease
So — here’s some info on the signs of Kawasaki Disease when children first get ill with it. The one thing that makes it stand out is a high temperature over several days. When you had Kawasaki Disease, you probably also had at least two other symptoms such as a rash, bloodshot eyes, “strawberry” tongue, cracked, dry lips, redness of the fingers and toes and swollen glands in the neck. If you were very young when first poorly with Kawasaki Disease you might not remember any of this of course!
Kawasaki Disease can be present with some or all of these symptoms making this a particularly tricky illness to diagnose if you don’t know it well. To make things even more complicated, the symptoms can appear one after the other (not all at once). So it’s no surprise really that it’s misdiagnosed at first in a lot of children.
Kawasaki Disease in very young babies seems to have fewest symptoms – perhaps just an unexplained high temperature.
Because of this – the U.K. Foundation for Kawasaki Disease, Societi, tells doctors to THINK Kawasaki Disease in ANY child with a persistent high temperature. We think that’s important! Because if treated quickly, children have less chance of having serious heart damage.
Kawasaki Disease can be a serious illness. Even today, not enough people know about it! If you’d like to get involved and help to get it known – get in touch!
What are coronary artery aneurysms?
Kawasaki Disease can cause heart damage in some children. The younger a child is when they first have Kawasaki Disease, the more likely they seem to be to develop serious heart damage. About a quarter of all children in the UK with Kawasaki Disease go on to have heart damage.
The heart damage Kawasaki Disease can cause includes coronary artery aneurysms. You might have heard this term. You might have been told you have one or more coronary artery aneurysms by your doctor.
But what are coronary artery aneurysms? There’s the answer to this and a pic below to explain this and some more of the terms you might hear a doctor using when talking about the effects of Kawasaki Disease on your heart.
Do I have coronary artery aneurysms?
If your heart was seriously damaged by Kawasaki Disease and you have coronary artery aneurysms, you’ll almost certainly know this and you’ll probably be taking regular medicine (such as daily aspirin or other daily medicines to reduce the risk of blood clots). Ask your parent or carer if you’re unsure but it’s probably unlikely that you have got lasting heart damage, if you don’t take regular medicines.
Remember – if you have serious heart damage from Kawasaki Disease, you’ll have had lots of chats with lots of doctors about this! If you’ve been told you had Kawasaki Disease as a child, but got better, this isn’t stuff you need to worry about! Phew!