What is Kawasaki disease?
Kawasaki disease is a rare illness that most commonly affects children ages 0 to 5,
but can sometimes affect children up to the age of 13. It is a type of vasculitis.
Vasculitis means inflammation of the blood vessels. It can affect the whole body,
including the blood vessels of the heart (coronary arteries). The cause of Kawasaki
disease is unknown. Without treatment, affected children are at higher risk of developing
problems with the coronary arteries. Other areas of the heart may also be affected.
With timely treatment, most children recover with no lasting problems.
Who is risk for Kawasaki disease?
Children of any race or ethnic group can get Kawasaki disease. It is more common in
children whose families are from East Asia or Asian ancestry. Most children who get
Kawasaki disease are younger than 5 years old. It occurs in boys more often than in
What causes Kawasaki disease?
The cause of Kawasaki disease is not known. Researchers think it may be the result
of an infection.
What are the symptoms of Kawasaki disease?
These are common symptoms of Kawasaki disease:
- Fever of 102.0° F to 104.0° F (38.8°C to 40.0°C) that lasts for at least 5 days
- Red rash
- A swollen lymph node, usually in the neck
- Swollen hands and feet
- Red eyes
- Red and dry cracked lips
- Red tongue with white spots (called “strawberry tongue”)
- Fast heart rate
- Diarrhea or vomiting
- Skin peeling
The symptoms of Kawasaki disease can look like other health conditions. Make sure
your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
How is Kawasaki disease diagnosed?
Your child's healthcare provider can usually diagnose Kawasaki disease by his or her
symptoms and physical exam.
To diagnose Kawasaki, other causes for the symptoms must be ruled out. A fever for
5 days must be present in addition to having 4 out of 5 of the following:
- Red eyes
- Changes in the lining of the mouth
- Skin changes in the hands and feet
- Swollen lymph nodes
Other recommended tests include:
Lab tests. Blood and urine samples are taken to check for signs of inflammation. These are also
used to help rule out other health problems.
Electrocardiography (ECG or EKG). This test records the electrical activity of the heart through small, sticky patches
on the child's chest. The patches are connected to a machine with wires. The machine
records the electrical activity. This helps check for problems with heart rhythm and
- Echocardiography (echo). This test uses sound waves to create a picture of the heart. This can show problems
with heart structure, valves, and heart function. This can also show problems with
the coronary arteries.
How is Kawasaki disease treated?
Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also
depend on how severe the condition is. Treatment typically starts as soon as the problem
is suspected. Your child may need to stay in the hospital for a few days or longer.
Your child's healthcare provider may prescribe aspirin or intravenous (IV) gamma globulin
(IVIG). Corticosteroids and other medicines may also be prescribed if aspirin and
IVIG don't work well.
Once your child is home, he or she may need to take low-dose aspirin for 6 to 8 weeks.
Do not give your child aspirin without first talking with the child's healthcare provider.
If your child develops heart problems, the provider may send you to a pediatric cardiologist.
This is a doctor with special training to treat children’s heart problems. Your child
may need medicine, procedures, or surgery.
What are the complications of Kawasaki disease?
Most children with Kawasaki disease get better within a few weeks. But serious complications
may occur. Those involving the heart include:
- Weakening of one of the heart's arteries (coronary artery aneurysm)
- Heart muscle that doesn't work well or heart attack
- Inflammation of the heart muscle (myocarditis), lining of the heart (endocarditis),
or covering of the heart (pericarditis)
- Heart valves that don't work well
- Heart failure
Kawasaki disease may also affect other body systems. This includes the nervous, immune,
digestive, and urinary systems.
How is Kawasaki disease managed?
If your child has a coronary artery aneurysm, he or she will need echocardiograms,
sometimes for several years after the illness. Your child may need more treatment,
including blood thinners to prevent clots. It is important to keep follow-up visits
with your child's healthcare provider, even if your child is feeling well.
There is a risk for early coronary artery disease after having Kawasaki disease, including
early heart attacks. Your child will need to follow a heart-healthy lifestyle for
life. This includes eating healthy foods, getting regular exercise, and not smoking.
Your child should have regular follow-up with a cardiologist throughout his or her
Talk with your child's healthcare provider about what to expect for your child.
When should I call my child's healthcare provider?
Call your child's healthcare provider if your child has the symptoms of Kawasaki disease.
If your child is diagnosed with Kawasaki disease, keep all follow-up appointments.
Also watch for signs or symptoms of complications, including:
- Poor feeding or eating
- Trouble breathing
- Chest pain
Key points about Kawasaki disease
- Kawasaki disease is a serious condition that affects young children. It can damage
blood vessels throughout the body.
- Kawasaki disease is diagnosed by having certain symptoms. For example, a fever lasting
at least 5 days.
- Your child’s healthcare provider will treat Kawasaki with aspirin, intravenous immune
globulin (IVIG), or other medicines.
- A child with Kawasaki disease may have serious complications, especially ones affecting
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
- Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.
- Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
- At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments,
or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
- Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child.
Also know what the side effects are.
- Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.
- Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
- Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
- If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose
for that visit.
- Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important
if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.