Kawasaki Disease

Kawasaki Disease: An Overview of the Rare Illness

Children under the age of five are primarily affected by the rare but dangerous illness known as Kawasaki Disease. Named after Dr. Tomisaku Kawasaki, who first identified it in 1967, this disorder can cause inflammation in the walls of medium-sized arteries throughout the body. Understanding Kawasaki Disease is crucial for parents and caregivers, as early diagnosis and treatment can prevent severe complications. In this guide, we will explore the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment, and long-term outlook for Kawasaki Disease.

What is Kawasaki Disease?

Kawasaki Disease (KD) is a type of vasculitis, which means it involves inflammation of blood vessels. The condition is most prevalent in children, particularly those under the age of five, but it can affect older children and, in rare cases, adults. The disease is characterized by a sudden onset of symptoms that can affect multiple organs and systems, including the heart, skin, mucous membranes, and lymph nodes.

Symptoms of Kawasaki Disease

The symptoms of Kawasaki Disease occur in three distinct phases: acute, subacute, and convalescent.

1. Acute Phase (Days 1-11):

  • Fever: A high, persistent fever lasting more than five days is often the first and most prominent symptom.
  • Rash: A widespread rash may appear, typically on the trunk and extremities.
  • Conjunctivitis: Redness in both eyes without pus or drainage.
  • Oral Changes: Red, cracked lips, a strawberry-like tongue, and redness inside the mouth.
  • Swollen Lymph Nodes: Particularly in the neck, often one-sided.
  • Swollen Hands and Feet: Redness and swelling of the hands and feet, sometimes accompanied by peeling skin.

2. Subacute Phase (Days 12-21):

  • Peeling Skin: Particularly on the hands and feet, around the fingertips and toes.
  • Joint Pain: Swelling and pain in the joints.
  • Irritability: Children may become unusually irritable and uncomfortable.
  • Gastrointestinal Issues: Abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea.

3. Convalescent Phase (Days 22 and Beyond):

  • Gradual Improvement: Symptoms start to improve, but children may still feel tired and irritable.
  • Risk of Coronary Aneurysms: During this phase, the risk of coronary artery aneurysms, a potentially life-threatening complication, is highest.

Causes and Risk Factors

The exact cause of Kawasaki Disease remains unknown. Researchers believe it may be triggered by a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental factors, such as infections. Some theories suggest that the disease may be an abnormal immune response to a viral or bacterial infection.

Risk Factors Include:

  • Age: Most commonly affects children under five years old.
  • Gender: Boys are slightly more likely to develop Kawasaki Disease than girls.
  • Ethnicity: Higher incidence in children of Asian descent, particularly Japanese and Korean.

Diagnosis of Kawasaki Disease

Diagnosing Kawasaki Disease can be challenging due to its similarity to other childhood illnesses, such as scarlet fever and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. There is no specific test for Kawasaki Disease; instead, diagnosis is based on clinical criteria and ruling out other conditions.

Diagnostic Criteria Include:

  • Fever that lasts for five days or longer.
  • Presence of at least four of the following five symptoms: conjunctivitis, oral changes, rash, swollen lymph nodes, and swollen hands/feet.
  • Echocardiogram: To assess the heart and detect any coronary artery abnormalities.
  • Blood Tests: To look for signs of inflammation and other abnormalities.

Treatment of Kawasaki Disease

Early treatment is crucial to reduce the risk of complications, particularly those affecting the heart. Treatment typically involves:

1. Intravenous Immunoglobulin (IVIG):
  • High doses of IVIG, administered within the first 10 days of illness, can reduce inflammation and lower the risk of coronary artery complications.
2. Aspirin:
  • High-dose aspirin is initially used to reduce fever and inflammation, followed by a lower dose for several weeks to prevent blood clots.
3. Corticosteroids:
  • In some cases, corticosteroids may be used, particularly if the child does not respond to IVIG treatment.
4. Monitoring:
  • Regular follow-up appointments, including echocardiograms, are essential to monitor heart health and detect any long-term complications.

Long-Term Outlook and Complications

Most children with Kawasaki Disease recover fully with timely treatment. However, some may experience long-term heart complications, which necessitate ongoing medical supervision.

Potential Complications Include:

  • Coronary Artery Aneurysms: Enlargement of the coronary arteries can lead to aneurysms, which can increase the risk of heart attacks.
  • Myocarditis: Inflammation of the heart muscle.
  • Pericarditis: Inflammation of the outer lining of the heart.
  • Valvular Heart Disease: Abnormalities in the heart valves.

Long-Term Monitoring:

  • Children with coronary artery abnormalities may require long-term cardiology follow-up and possibly medication to manage heart health.
  • Regular physical activity and a heart-healthy diet are encouraged to support overall cardiovascular health.

Prevention and Parental Guidance

Since the exact cause of Kawasaki Disease is unknown, there are no specific measures to prevent it. However, parents can take steps to support their child’s overall health and well-being:

1. Early Recognition:
  • Be aware of the symptoms of Kawasaki Disease and seek medical attention promptly if they occur.
2. Regular Medical Check-Ups:
  • Ensure regular pediatric check-ups to monitor overall health and development.
3. Supportive Care:
  • Provide a healthy diet, encourage regular physical activity, and ensure the child gets enough rest.
4. Immunizations:
  • Keep up-to-date with vaccinations to protect against various infections that could potentially trigger an abnormal immune response.


Kawasaki Disease is a rare but serious condition that requires prompt medical attention. Understanding the symptoms, seeking early diagnosis, and adhering to treatment plans are essential to prevent complications and ensure the best possible outcome for affected children. At the CLIO Mother and Child Institute, we are dedicated to providing comprehensive care and support for families dealing with Kawasaki Disease. Our experienced team of pediatric specialists is here to guide you through every step of the diagnosis, treatment, and recovery process. If you have any concerns about Kawasaki Disease or any other pediatric health issues, please do not hesitate to contact us. We are committed to helping your child achieve optimal health and well-being.

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