What is Kawasaki disease?
Kawasaki disease is a rare childhood illness that affects the blood vessels. The symptoms can be severe for several days and can look scary to parents. But then 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 Kawasaki disease?
Experts don't know what causes the disease. The disease happens most often in the late 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 Kawasaki disease 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 listed above.
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 it treated?
Treatment for Kawasaki disease starts in the hospital. It may include:
- Corticosteroid medicine. This is given to reduce fever and reduce problems with the heart arteries.
- Immunoglobulin(IVIG) medicine. This is given through a vein (intravenous, or IV) to reduce inflammation of the blood vessels.
- Aspirin to help pain and fever and to lower the risk of blood clots.
Aspirin therapy is often continued at home. 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 his or her 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.
How serious is 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.
Other Works Consulted
- Newburger JW, et al. (2006). Kawasaki disease. In FD Burg et al., eds., Current Pediatric Therapy, 18th ed., pp. 497–503. Philadelphia: Saunders.
- Shulman ST (2009). Kawasaki disease. In RD Feigin et al., eds., Feigin and Cherry's Textbook of Pediatric Infectious Diseases, 6th ed., vol. 1, pp. 1153–1175. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
- Son MBF, Newburger JW (2011). Kawasaki disease. In RM Kliegman et al., eds., Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 19th ed., pp. 862–867. Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier.
- Takahashi M, Newburger JW (2008). Kawasaki disease (mucocutaneous lymph node syndrome). In HD Allen et al., eds., Moss and Adams' Heart Disease in Infants, Children, and Adolescents, Including the Fetus and Young Adult, 7th ed., vol. 2, pp. 1242–1256. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
Current as of: May 27, 2020
Author: Healthwise Staff
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine
John Pope MD - Pediatrics
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