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Kawasaki Disease

What is Kawasaki disease?

Kawasaki disease is an inflammation (swelling) in the walls of the arteries. Arteries are blood vessels that carry blood from the heart to the rest of the body.

With treatment, most children treated for Kawasaki disease recover completely. If this disease is not treated, it can cause many serious problems including:

  • Swelling of the heart muscle. The swelling can make the heart pump blood poorly.
  • Problems with the coronary arteries. Coronary arteries are the blood vessels that carry blood to the heart muscle. Weak, bulging areas, called aneurysms, can form in the artery walls. Blood can clot in an aneurysm and eventually block blood flow. The blockage can damage the heart muscle.
  • Other problems, such as joint swelling (arthritis), poor digestion, diarrhea, and gallbladder problems. Children with Kawasaki disease can also be very irritable.

Kawasaki disease is rare. It usually affects children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years.

Another name for this disease is mucocutaneous lymph node syndrome.

What is the cause?

The cause of this disease is not known. Some possible causes may be:

  • Infection with a virus or bacteria
  • Chemicals or pollutants

This disease does not appear to spread from person to person. Since it is rare for more than one child in the same family to get Kawasaki disease, it does not appear to be inherited.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • A fever for 5 or more days
  • A skin rash
  • Swollen, dry, cracked lips
  • Red, swollen tongue
  • Red (bloodshot) eyes
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck
  • Swelling and redness of the hands and feet
  • Peeling of the skin on the hands and feet, especially around the tips of the fingers and toes, a few weeks after other symptoms start

How is it diagnosed?

Your child's healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history and examine your child. If your child has had a fever for many days and also has 4 or 5 of the other symptoms listed above, your provider will probably diagnose your child with Kawasaki disease. A diagnosis called atypical Kawasaki syndrome may be made if your child has a fever and fewer than 4 of the symptoms.

Tests may include:

  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests
  • X-rays
  • An ECG, also called an EKG, which measures and records the heartbeat
  • An echocardiogram, which uses sound waves (ultrasound) to see how well the heart muscle is pumping
  • Lumbar puncture, which uses a needle to get a small amount of spinal fluid for tests

How is it treated?

At first, your child will need to stay in the hospital. If the disease is diagnosed and treated early, the complications of Kawasaki disease can usually be prevented. Your child will get antibodies called gamma globulin through a vein (IV). This treatment greatly lowers the risk of heart problems, especially coronary artery aneurysms.

If your child has a coronary artery aneurysm, your child will need to start some long-term treatments. This includes taking aspirin to prevent blood clotting. Your child will need to be seen regularly by a pediatric heart specialist (cardiologist).

If your child is taking aspirin, your child will be at risk for a serious illness called Reye's syndrome if he or she gets the flu or chickenpox. The chickenpox shot and yearly flu shots can help protect your child against this illness.

  • Antibody treatments may interfere with how well the chickenpox and the MMR (measles) vaccines work to protect your child against these infections. Children who are getting IV antibody treatment should not get either of these vaccines until at least 11 months after the antibody treatment ends.
  • Children with Kawasaki disease should not get the nasal spray form of the flu vaccine.

As your child gets better, tests should show that the inflammation is going away.

It’s very rare for a child to get Kawasaki disease more than once.

How can I take care of my child?

Follow your child’s healthcare provider's instructions. Ask your provider:

  • How and when you will hear your child’s test results
  • How long it will take for your child to recover
  • What activities your child should avoid and when your child can return to normal activities
  • How to take care of your child at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if your child has them

Make sure you know when your child should come back for a checkup.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Pediatric Advisor 2013.2 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2013-02-08
Last reviewed: 2013-02-07
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2013 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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