What is Kawasaki disease?
Kawasaki disease is a rare childhood illness that affects the blood vessels. The symptoms can be severe for several days. But with treatment, most children return to normal activities.
Kawasaki disease can harm the coronary arteries, which carry blood to the heart muscle. Most children who are treated recover from the disease without long-term problems. Your doctor will watch your child for heart problems for a few weeks to a few months after treatment.
The disease is most common in children younger than age 5. It does not spread from child to child (is not contagious).
What causes it?
Experts don't know what causes the disease. The disease happens most often in the winter and early spring.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of Kawasaki disease include:
- A fever lasting at least 5 days.
- Red eyes.
- A body rash.
- Swollen, red, cracked lips and tongue.
- Swollen, red feet and hands.
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck.
Get medical help right away if your child has symptoms of Kawasaki disease. Early diagnosis and treatment can often prevent future heart problems.
How is it diagnosed?
Kawasaki disease can be hard to diagnose, because there is not a test for it. Your doctor may diagnose Kawasaki disease if both of these things are true:
- Your child has a fever that lasts at least 5 days.
- Your child has a few of the other five symptoms of Kawasaki disease.
Your child may also have routine lab tests. And the doctor may order an echocardiogram to check for heart problems.
After your child gets better, he or she will need checkups to watch for heart problems.
How is Kawasaki disease treated?
Treatment for Kawasaki disease starts in the hospital. It may include:
- Immunoglobulin (IVIG) medicine. This is given through a vein (intravenous, or I.V.). It can reduce inflammation and help prevent problems with the heart arteries.
- Aspirin to help pain and fever and to lower the risk of blood clots. Aspirin therapy is often continued at home.
- Corticosteroid medicine. This may be given to reduce fever and reduce problems with the heart arteries.
Because of the risk of Reye syndrome, do not give aspirin to your child without talking to your doctor. If your child is exposed to or develops chickenpox or flu (influenza) while taking aspirin, talk with your doctor right away.
Your child may be tired and fussy, and your child's skin may be dry for a month or so. Try not to let your child get overly tired. And use skin lotion to help keep the fingers and toes moist.
If the disease causes heart problems, your child may need more treatment and follow-up tests.
What happens when a child has Kawasaki disease?
It may be a few weeks before your child feels completely well. But most children who have Kawasaki disease get better and have no long-term problems. Early treatment is important, because it shortens the illness and lowers the chances of heart problems. Follow-up tests can help you and your doctor be sure that the disease did not cause heart problems.
Some children will have damage to the coronary arteries. An artery may get too large and form an aneurysm. Or the arteries may narrow or be at risk for blood clots. A child who has damaged coronary arteries may be more likely to have a heart attack as a young adult. If your child is affected, know what to watch for and when to seek care.
Current as of: July 11, 2023
Author: Healthwise Staff
Clinical Review Board: All Healthwise education is reviewed by a team that includes physicians, nurses, advanced practitioners, registered dieticians, and other healthcare professionals.