Kawasaki disease is an illness that affects young children. It causes irritation and swelling of the skin, mouth, and lymph nodes. More serious illness can also lead to swelling in the coronary arteries. These arteries, supply oxygen to the heart. The swelling can cause serious heart problems like a weakening of blood vessel walls (aneurysm) and heart attack.
The sooner Kawasaki disease is treated, the better the outcome. If you suspect your child has this condition, contact the doctor right away.
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The cause of Kawasaki disease is unknown. Some believe it is an infectious agent like a virus. However, Kawasaki does not seem to be contagious. It does not spread through households like the flu.
Kawasaki disease is most common in children less than five year old. It is very rare in adults.
Children of Asian ethnicity also seem to be more likely to get Kawasaki disease.
Outbreaks of the disease are more common during the winter and early spring months.
These symptoms may be caused by a number of health conditions. Call your doctor if your child has these symptoms:
Early symptoms (in first 2 weeks) may include
- High fever—lasting for at least five days and usually greater than 102 degrees Fahrenheit (38.8 degrees Celsius)
(also known as “pink eye”)—red or “bloodshot” whites of the eye
- Soreness and swelling of the mouth, lips, and throat
- Strawberry tongue—white/yellow coating and bright red bumps on tongue
- Swollen hands and feet that may look red
- Swollen lymph nodes (organs of the immune system) in the neck
Later symptoms (within 2 weeks of the start of fever) may include:
- Peeling of skin on hands and feet
- Joint problems
- Diarrhea, vomiting, or abdominal pain
There is no specific test to diagnose Kawasaki disease. Your doctor will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will also be done.
Your doctor will often be able to make a diagnosis based on your child's symptoms.
Tests may be done to look for signs of inflammation or heart involvement. These tests may include:
Kawasaki will go away on its own. However, treatment can help to limit the damage the illness does. Treatment is especially important to reduce risk of damage to the heart. About 25% of children who do not receive treatment will develop serious heart problems.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for your child. Treatment options include the following:
Gamma globulin naturally occurs in the body. It is a protein that helps your body fight infections. This treatment provides a concentrated dose of gamma globulin. It is passed into your bloodstream through an IV.
This treatment may decrease the risk of heart complications. It is most effective when given early in the illness, ideally the first 10 days.
High doses of
may also be recommended. Aspirin may help to manage symptoms by:
- Preventing the formation of blood clots
- Reducing fever
- Easing joint swelling
- Treating rashes
Note: If your child is given aspirin therapy and develops symptoms of a viral infection, especially
chickenpox, call the doctor about stopping aspirin therapy. Aspirin has been associated with
Reyes syndrome, a potentially fatal condition.
Steroid or joint inflammation medication may also be recommended. They may be used if inflammation cannot be controlled with treatments above.
If heart complications develop, they will need to be treated. Specific treatment will depend on the specific problem.
There is no known way to prevent Kawasaki disease.
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Kawasaki disease. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:
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Newburger JW, Takahashi M, et al. AHA scientific statement: diagnosis, treatment, and long-term management of Kawasaki Disease.
Taubert KA, Shulman ST. Cardiovascular medicine: Kawasaki disease.
Am Fam Physician. 1999;59(11).
Last reviewed November 2012 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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