What is Kawasaki disease?

Kawasaki disease is an illness that causes inflammation of blood vessels throughout the body. In some cases, it can cause damage to the coronary arteries -- the blood vessels that deliver oxygen to the heart. This can cause a coronary aneurysm, an enlargement of the artery wall, which can lead to a blood clot and an increased risk of a heart attack.

Kawasaki disease usually affects children younger than 5, but in rare cases, it can affect older children or teenagers. Damage to the coronary arteries caused by Kawasaki disease can be temporary or long-lasting, and babies younger than 6 months have a higher risk of heart complications.

What are the symptoms of Kawasaki disease?

The first sign of Kawasaki disease in many children is a high fever. The fever may come and go but usually lasts at least five days. In some children, it can last up to a few weeks.

Other symptoms of Kawasaki disease include:

  • Red, dry and cracked lips
  • A red, swollen or bumpy tongue (also known as “strawberry tongue”)
  • A rash, often on the chest, back or groin area
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • Red and swollen hands and feet
  • Peeling skin on fingertips and toes
  • Some children may also have joint pain, diarrhea, vomiting or stomach pain

Some children may not have all of the symptoms of classic Kawasaki disease, called incomplete Kawasaki disease. This is most common in babies younger than 6 months.

If your child’s doctor suspects Kawasaki disease, they may order blood testing to assess the level of inflammation in the body. Your child may also need an echocardiogram or electrocardiogram to check for heart and coronary arteries damage.

What causes Kawasaki disease?

Experts do not know the exact cause of Kawasaki disease. Some researchers suspect Kawasaki disease could result from an abnormal immune response to an unknown trigger. Children of Asian or Asian-American descent are more likely to get Kawasaki disease. Kawasaki disease is also more common in boys than girls. There may also be a seasonal aspect to Kawasaki disease, as it is more often seen in the winter and spring but is not contagious. Genetic factors may play a role in Kawasaki disease.

Make an appointment