What Is Kawasaki Disease? Learn the Origins of This Inflammatory Syndrome

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Story at-a-glance -

  • Dr. Tomisaku Kawasaki is a Japanese pediatrician who discovered the disease, which was subsequently named after him. He first saw the symptoms in a 4-year-old boy in 1961
  • Those who develop Kawasaki disease are commonly from Asia, suggesting that there is a genetic reason for this occurrence. It is believed that a group of genes is responsible for causing the symptoms to appear

Kawasaki disease mainly affects children under the age of 5. It specifically inflames the blood vessels, as well as affects the lymph nodes, which result in a variety of symptoms, such as high fever, rashes, swollen lips, bloodshot eyes and joint pain. Among children, Kawasaki disease is the top cause of cardiovascular illness.1

When diagnosed early, children may completely recover from Kawasaki disease. However, there are those who may develop cardiovascular complications, so careful observation and treatment are needed to help speed healing.2

Who Discovered Kawasaki Disease?

Dr. Tomisaku Kawasaki is a Japanese pediatrician who discovered the disease, which was subsequently named after him. He first saw the symptoms in a 4-year-old boy in 1961.3 A year later, after seeing the same thing happen to another patient, he began to dedicate himself to research, publishing his first report in Japanese in 1967. During the next few years, surveys were sent out and results indicated that there were similar cases of heart-related complications associated with symptoms of Kawasaki disease.4

In 1974, Kawasaki published additional research in English, propelling his discovery to the international medical community.5 By 1992, the Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics (considered to be the standard textbook of pediatrics in the United States) mentioned Kawasaki disease, cementing its foothold in the medical community as an authentic illness.6

The Cause of Kawasaki Disease Is Still Unknown Today

Despite documented patients and studies regarding Kawasaki disease, no one knows how it develops. The only thing experts are sure of is that the disease is not contagious.7 However, some theories have been presented, which point to certain culprits such as:8

Infection — Kawasaki disease is theorized as an infectious condition because it causes symptoms similar to other contagious diseases. However, since there is no specific microbe that has been identified in connection with the disease, this idea has been debunked because Kawasaki disease isn’t contagious.

Genetics — Those who develop Kawasaki disease are commonly from Asia, suggesting that there is a genetic reason for this occurrence. It is believed that a group of genes is responsible for causing the symptoms to appear.

Others — Some experts believe that Kawasaki disease occurs as a response to environmental factors such as exposure to certain medications, pollutants and surroundings. More recently, researchers have found that high consumption of soy may increase a child’s risk of getting Kawasaki disease.9

Currently, there are three known risk factors that increase your risk of getting Kawasaki disease:10

Age — Children under 5 years old have the highest risk of getting Kawasaki disease, but it may develop in adults as well.11

Gender — Boys are more likely to develop Kawasaki disease than girls.

Ethnicity — Asian or Pacific Island children have a higher chance of developing Kawasaki disease.

Prognosis of Kawasaki Disease Is Good If It Is Detected Early

While potentially fatal in rare cases,12 Kawasaki disease is treatable and recovery can be achieved completely within six to eight weeks if diagnosed early. The risk of developing complications such as cardiovascular problems is also greatly reduced.13 Even though your child may recover, it is important to remain vigilant with their health. After the symptoms have subsided, they will need to undergo diagnostic tests every few weeks, then every one or two years to monitor for arterial inflammation.14

MORE ABOUT KAWASAKI DISEASE

Kawasaki Disease: Introduction

What Is Kawasaki Disease?

Kawasaki Disease Symptoms

Kawasaki Disease Treatment

Kawasaki Disease Prevention

Kawasaki Disease Diet

Kawasaki Disease FAQ

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