The Rare Disease That Causes Heart Attacks in Children

Kawasaki disease is a rare condition in children, but as a pediatric cardiologist, Jeffrey Moore, MD, sees a fair amount of cases at ProMedica Toledo Children’s Hospital. A recent news story by 13abc reported that there have been a few cases of the condition in Bryan, Ohio, as well.

Because the symptoms are similar to viral diseases, it may be hard to diagnose at first. However, if untreated, it could lead to serious complications or even heart attacks in children.

The cause of Kawasaki disease isn’t well understood. “The leading theory is that it begins with a viral illness,” explained Dr. Moore. “This leads to a more generalized inflammatory state in the body and certain kids seem to be more predisposed to Kawasaki disease.”

The particular danger with Kawasaki disease is if the coronary arteries, which supply blood to the heart, become inflamed. The disease is one of the few causes of coronary artery issues in very young kids, outside of those who are born with complications.

“The heart is a muscle and like all muscles, it needs blood,” said Dr. Moore. “If the coronaries become inflamed, the wall vessels can weaken and that can contort the shape of the vessels, causing abnormalities in the blood flow. Anytime you get abnormalities in the blood flow, that can be a set up for a clot formation, causing a heart attack in very, very young kids.”

This clot formation is similar to what adults with longstanding cholesterol issues or high blood pressure may experience, and can be just as fatal.

Treating the condition early is important, but the symptoms can be ambiguous. Dr. Moore said children with Kawasaki disease often have prolonged fevers for multiple days and get a generalized rash throughout the body. “Viruses can do the exact same thing,” he said, which makes diagnosis difficult.

What sets it apart is the length of the fever as well as symptoms that affect the eyes and tongue. Dr. Moore recommends a visit to the pediatrician if a child has a fever for more than five days, they have red or injected eyes and tongue abnormalities.

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