health library

Kawasaki Disease

What is Kawasaki disease?

Kawasaki disease causes inflamed blood vessels. It can weaken the walls of blood vessels, including the arteries of the heart. Kawasaki mostly affects infants and young children. It is uncommon in the U.S. But it is a main cause of heart disease in children in the U.S. and Japan.

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 Japan. Most children who get Kawasaki disease are younger than 5 years old. It occurs in boys more often than in girls.

What causes Kawasaki disease?

The cause of Kawasaki disease is not known. Researchers think it may be an infection.

What are the symptoms of Kawasaki disease?

These are common symptoms of Kawasaki disease:

  • Fever of 101.0° F to 104.0° F (38.3°C to 40.0°C) that lasts for at least 5 days
  • Irritability
  • Swollen lymph glands in the neck
  • Spotty, bright red rash on the back, chest, abdomen, or groin
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Swollen, coated tongue
  • Dry, red, cracked lips
  • Red, swollen palms of hands and soles of feet
  • Peeling skin around the nail beds, hands, or feet
  • Swollen, painful joints

The symptoms of Kawasaki disease can be like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is Kawasaki disease diagnosed?

The healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and health history. He or she will give your child a physical exam.  A child must have several of the symptoms to be diagnosed with Kawasaki disease. Your child may need tests, such as:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG). This test that records the electrical activity of the heart. It shows abnormal rhythms, and finds heart muscle damage.
  • Echocardiogram (echo). This test checks the structure and function of the heart with sound waves.

Your child may also need many lab tests, including:

  • Complete blood count (CBC). This measures the size, number, and maturity of different blood cells.
  • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR or sed rate). This tests for inflammation in the body.
  • Urinalysis. This checks your child's urine for many different things, including kidney problems.

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.

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. 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.

Do not give your child aspirin without first talking with your child’s provider.

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, 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 life.

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:

  • Tiredness
  • Poor feeding or eating
  • Trouble breathing
  • Swelling
  • 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 and intravenous immune globulin (IVIG).
  • A child with Kawasaki disease may have serious complications, especially ones affecting the heart.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • At the visit, write down the names of new medicines, treatments, or tests, and any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
  • 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.
Online Medical Reviewer: Bass, Pat F. III, MD, MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 2/27/2015
© 2000-2015 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
Nationwide Children's Hospital
700 Children's Drive Columbus, Ohio 43205 614.722.2000