What is Keshan disease?

Keshan disease (KD) is a life-threatening condition that affects the heart muscle. It is caused by a selenium deficiency and is characterized by pulmonary edema and heart failure. As one of several types of nutritional diseases, Keshan disease is unique in that it primarily affects young women and children.

Selenium is an essential element found in soil and water, and is important for optimal health in humans and animals. As an antioxidant, selenium works to protect tissues throughout the body from oxidation. Nutrition experts recommend that women and men consume an average of 55 micrograms of selenium each day and that women consume 60 micrograms per day during pregnancy and an average of 70 micrograms per day during lactation. However, it is important to pay attention to selenium intake, as too much in the diet can lead to serious health problems, just as too little can lead to the development of Keshan disease.

Due to the low content of selenium in the soil, Keshan disease was originally discovered when it widely affected women and children in the Chinese province of Keshan. Cases of KD have also been discovered in Finland and New Zealand, which are also areas that have low soil selenium content. Although rarely reported elsewhere, cases of Keshan disease can occur in hospitalized patients who are fed intravenously for long periods or in people with gastrointestinal problems that prevent optimal absorption of selenium. Such dietary deficiency is easily avoided by supplementation, which is also how KD is reversed after proper diagnosis.

One of the main symptoms of Keshan disease is an enlarged or inflamed heart muscle, known as congestive cardiomyopathy, which becomes visible on cardiology examination. Symptoms may also include chest pain, muscle pain, nausea, vomiting, and decreased function of the pancreas. People with KD are also at increased risk of developing cancer, having a stroke, or developing high blood pressure. Without proper treatment, KD can and often does result in congestive heart failure.

In addition to its development from a dietary deficiency or its prevalence in people suffering from gastrointestinal diseases, it is possible to contract Keshan disease in another way. Research indicates that people with KD tend to have higher than normal amounts of Coxsackie B virus antibodies. Although the two conditions have different symptoms, at a certain point in its development, Coxsackie B virus can mutate into the Kesha's disease.

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