Kawasaki, A Serious Childhood Disease, Is Linked To An Increased Risk Of Adult Heart Disease

How does a childhood illness relate to heart disease in adults?  When you think about it, it makes sense.  If your body is predisposed to certain conditions in your younger years, it could affect your body in such a way that you are making yourself susceptible to certain conditions as an adult.  Such is what researchers at Cedars-Sinai have linked together in the case of Kawasaki Disease and Heart Disease.

The researchers linked the serious childhood illness that causes inflammation of blood vessels throughout the body, with early-onset and accelerated atherosclerosis, a leading cause of heart disease in adults.

Using young mice, the researchers found that Kawasaki Disease was associated with the development of accelerated hardening of the arteries or plaque buildup.  The study also suggests that aggressive early treatment of the blood vessel inflammation caused by Kawasaki Disease may reduce the future risk of developing accelerated atherosclerosis.

But why Kawasaki?  The heart may be affected in as many as one of five children who develop Kawasaki disease. Damage sometimes occurs to the blood vessels that supply the heart muscle (the coronary arteries) and to the heart muscle itself. A weakening of a coronary artery can result in an enlargement or swelling of the blood vessel wall (an aneurysm).

“Heart disease is the leading cause of death in this country and this study suggests that adult cardiovascular diseases likely start during childhood and that Kawasaki Disease may play a role in the childhood origin of adult heart disease,” said Moshe Arditi, MD, executive vice chair of research in Cedars-Sinai’s Department of Pediatrics in the Maxine Dunitz Children’s Health Center and director of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases and Immunology. “By recognizing the connection between this vascular inflammatory disease and hardening of the arteries in young adults, physicians will be better prepared to provide preventive care to these vulnerable patients.”

Arditi said the study’s findings also may have implications for children with Kawasaki Disease in that they may need to be closely monitored for future development of early-onset atherosclerosis. Also, doctors treating children who have had Kawasaki Disease should closely monitor other known cardiovascular disease risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking, Arditi said.

Kawasaki Disease is diagnosed in approximately 5,000 U.S. children every year, predominantly affecting children younger than five. Boys are more likely than girls to acquire Kawasaki Disease, which starts with a sudden, persistent fever and causes swollen hands and feet, red eyes and body rash. Scientists suspect Kawasaki Disease is the body’s immune reaction to an unknown virus.

In the study, which was funded with a grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, mice with Kawasaki Disease were fed a high-fat diet and then compared to mice that did not have Kawasaki Disease but did eat the same high-fat diet. The Kawasaki mice developed significantly more atherosclerotic plaque at a younger age.

“This study suggests that timely diagnosis and aggressive initial treatment of the vascular inflammation may be important in preventing this potentially serious future complication,” said co-author Prediman K. Shah, MD, director of cardiology, director of the Shapell and Webb Family Chair in Clinical Cardiology at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute.

The study is available online at the journal’s website or in the August 2012 print edition of Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology, an American Heart Association peer-reviewed medical journal.

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