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What Are the Symptoms of Kawasaki Disease?

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  • Written By: Stephany Seipel
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 31 July 2018
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Kawasaki disease is a medical condition characterized by swelling and inflammation in the arteries and lymph nodes. This disease, which is also called infantile polyarteritis and mucocutaneous lymph node syndrome, can cause heart disease and heart attacks in children under five years of age. The symptoms of Kawasaki disease occur in several distinct phases. Swelling, irritability and fevers come in the first phase, followed by abdominal pain and peeling skin. In the third phase, patients are recovering, though they usually lack energy and could possibly have complications.

The first symptoms of Kawasaki disease include swollen lymph nodes and conjunctivitis, or red eyes. Children usually run a fever over 101.3°F (38.5°C) for one to two weeks. As the disease progresses, the soles of the feet and palms of the hands become red and swollen, and the tongue turns bright red and swells. The child may also have cracked red lips or a runny nose, and might feel irritable.

During the second phase, the symptoms of Kawasaki disease worsen. Many children experience abdominal discomfort. Affected patients might complain of a stomach ache, vomiting or diarrhea. They often suffer from joint pain. Large sheets of the patient's skin peel away from the hands and feet, particularly at the ends of the digits.

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The third phase is generally the recovery period. The symptoms of Kawasaki disease usually clear up on their own in a month or two, but some children suffer from serious complications such as blood clots, internal bleeding or damage to the heart, which can be fatal. Patients may lack energy for about two months after the symptoms disappear. Doctors recommend that survivors monitor their health by getting an echocardiogram approximately every year or two to check for potential heart problems.

As of 2011, no specific medical test was available to conclusively diagnose this disorder. Medical care practitioners conduct urine tests to rule out other medical conditions, but they base the diagnosis largely upon the distinctive symptoms of Kawasaki disease. They might also perform echocardiograms or electrocardiograms at the time of diagnosis to determine how well the arteries and heart are functioning.

Kawasaki disease usually affects children under five years of age. It is more common among patients of Asian ancestry and is slightly more common in boys than in girls. The symptoms of Kawasaki disease appear most often in winter and spring.

Children who demonstrate the symptoms of Kawasaki disease are usually hospitalized. Doctors treat the disorder by intravenously injecting a protein called gamma globulin into the patient's vein. Gamma globulin protects the heart and lessens the chances of the child suffering from permanent coronary damage. The doctors may also prescribe high levels of aspirin to fight the fever and joint pain.

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