Kawasaki Disease

doctor holding a baby's foot

Kawasaki disease, also referred to as Kawasaki syndrome or mucocutaneous lymph node syndrome, affects children and includes several symptoms:

  • fever
  • rash
  • swelling of the hands and feet
  • irritation and redness of the whites of the eyes
  • swollen lymph glands in the neck
  • irritation and inflammation of the mouth, lips and throat

These effects of Kawasaki disease are rarely serious. The acute phase of the condition commonly lasts 10-14 days or more. Most children recover fully. But, in some cases, Kawasaki disease can lead to long-term heart complications.

The disease is named after Dr. Tomisaku Kawasaki, a Japanese pediatrician. The condition has likely existed for a long time, but was not recognized as a separate syndrome until 1967.

Cause

The cause of Kawasaki disease is unknown. It doesn’t appear to be hereditary or contagious. Because the illness frequently occurs in outbreaks within a population, an infectious agent (such as a virus) is the likely cause.

Sometimes more than one child in a family can develop Kawasaki disease, which may indicate a genetic predisposition for the syndrome.

Incidence

The incidence of Kawasaki disease is higher in Japan than in any other country, although the disease has been reported worldwide.

In the United States, the condition is more frequent among children of Asian-American descent, but it can occur in any racial or ethnic group. It’s the most common cause of acquired heart disease in children in this country.

In recent years, Kawasaki disease has tended to occur in localized outbreaks, most often in the winter or early spring.

Kawasaki disease almost always affects children. Most patients are under 5 years old; the average age for children affected with the syndrome is about 2. Boys develop the illness almost twice as often as girls.

Implications for heart health

The heart may be affected in as many as one in four children who have Kawasaki disease.

Damage sometimes occurs to the blood vessels that supply the heart muscle (the coronary arteries) and to the heart muscle itself. A weakening of a coronary artery can result in an enlargement or swelling of the blood vessel wall (an aneurysm).

Infants less than 1 year old are usually the most seriously ill and are at greatest risk for heart complications.

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