Overview

Kawasaki disease causes swelling, called inflammation, in the walls of small to medium-sized blood vessels that carry blood throughout the body. Kawasaki disease most often affects the heart arteries in children. Those arteries supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart.

Kawasaki disease is sometimes called mucocutaneous lymph node syndrome. That's because it also causes swelling in glands, called lymph nodes, and mucous membranes inside the mouth, nose, eyes and throat.

Children with Kawasaki disease might have high fever, swollen hands and feet with skin peeling, and red eyes and tongue. But Kawasaki disease is often treatable. With early treatment, most children get better and have no long-lasting problems.

Symptoms

Symptoms of Kawasaki disease include a fever greater than 102.2 degrees Fahrenheit (39 degrees Celsius) for five or more days. And the child has at least four of the following symptoms.

  • A rash on the main part of the body or in the genital area.
  • An enlarged lymph node in the neck.
  • Very red eyes without a thick discharge.
  • Red, dry, cracked lips and a red, swollen tongue.
  • Swollen, red skin on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet. Later the skin on fingers and toes peels.

The symptoms might not happen at the same time. Let your child's healthcare professional know about a symptom that has gone away.

Other symptoms might include:

  • Belly pain.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Fussiness.
  • Joint pain.
  • Vomiting.

Some children get a high fever for five or more days but have fewer than four of the symptoms needed for a diagnosis of Kawasaki disease. They might have what's called incomplete Kawasaki disease. Children with incomplete Kawasaki disease are still at risk of damage to the heart arteries. They still need treatment within 10 days of when symptoms appear.

Kawasaki disease can have symptoms like those of a condition called multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children. The syndrome happens in children with COVID-19.

When to see a doctor

If your child has a fever that lasts more than three days, contact your child's healthcare professional. Treating Kawasaki disease within 10 days of when it began may reduce the chances of lasting damage to the arteries that supply the heart.

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Causes

No one knows what causes Kawasaki disease. But experts don't believe the disease spreads from person to person. Some think that Kawasaki disease happens after a bacterial or viral infection, or that it's linked to factors in the environment. Certain genes might make children more likely to get Kawasaki disease.

Risk factors

Three things are known to increase a child's risk of developing Kawasaki disease.

  • Age. Children under 5 years old are at highest risk of Kawasaki disease.
  • Sex. Children who are assigned male at birth are slightly more likely to get Kawasaki disease.
  • Ethnicity. Children of Asian or Pacific Islander descent have higher rates of Kawasaki disease.

Kawasaki disease tends to occur seasonally. In North America and countries with like climates, it most often happens in the winter and early spring.

Complications

Kawasaki disease is a leading cause of heart disease in children who live in developed countries. But, with treatment, few children have lasting damage.

Heart complications include:

  • Swelling of blood vessels, most often the arteries that send blood to the heart.
  • Swelling of the heart muscle.
  • Heart valve problems.

Any of these complications can damage the heart. Swelling of the heart arteries can weaken them and cause a bulge in the artery wall, called an aneurysm. Aneurysms raise the risk of blood clots. These can lead to a heart attack or cause bleeding inside the body.

Rarely, for children who get heart artery problems, Kawasaki disease can cause death.

Nov. 08, 2023

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