Overview of Kawasaki Disease in Children

A Rare Childhood Disease With Serious Complications

X-ray showing aneurysmal enlargement of the coronary arteries, which is a complication in a Kawasaki syndrome
Wkmatzek/Wikipedia Commons/Public Domain

Kawasaki (KAH-wah-SAH-ke) disease is a rare childhood disease that occurs when the walls of blood vessels, throughout the body, become inflamed. It can affect arteries, veins, and capillaries. If symptoms are recognized early, children with Kawasaki disease can recover within a few days. If left untreated, it can lead to serious complications including a fatal coronary artery aneurysm.

Also known as mucocutaneous lymph node syndrome, Kawasaki disease affects lymph nodes, skin and the mucus membranes inside the mouth, nose and throat.

Kawasaki disease mainly affects children younger than 5 years of age and occurs more frequently in boys than girls. It is seen more predominantly in children of Japanese or Korean descent but can affect all ethnic groups.

The cause of Kawasaki disease is unknown. It is not contagious and cannot be passed from one child to another.

Symptoms of Kawasaki Disease

Kawasaki disease symptoms occur in three distinct phases.

Phase One

During the early part of Kawasaki disease, the main symptom is fever, which can last for more than five days. Other symptoms include:

  • A rash on the trunk and genital sections of the body
  • Conjunctivitis, red eyes without a thick discharge
  • Red, cracked lips
  • Swollen tongue
  • Red, swollen palms of the hands
  • Red, swollen soles of the feet

Symptoms of Kawasaki disease, such as a high fever can be alarming. Most children recover without any further problems.

Phase Two

During phase two, your child may become irritable and display the following symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Sore throat
  • Joint pain

Within two to three weeks from the start of symptoms, the skin on your child’s fingers and toes may begin to peel.

Phase Three

During the third phase of Kawasaki disease, your child’s symptoms usually lessen, unless they have experienced complications. It may take up to 2 months for your child's energy levels to return to normal.

Diagnosis of Kawasaki Disease

There is no specific test to diagnose Kawasaki disease. Your child’s pediatrician will diagnose your child’s condition based on the symptoms experienced. Diagnostic tests, including blood tests, urine tests, and heart tests, such as electrocardiograms (EKGs) and echocardiograms, may be performed to rule out other conditions that may cause similar symptoms.

Treatment of Kawasaki Disease

Early treatment, to prevent complications, may include hospitalization. Treatments used to prevent complications include an infusion of gamma globulin to lower risk of coronary artery problems and high doses of aspirin to treat inflammation.

Even after your child’s fever is gone, a six week course of low-dose aspirin may be administered to prevent blood clotting.

Complications of Kawasaki Disease

Early treatment of Kawasaki disease reduces the risk of complications. If there are complications, they are heart-related. Possible complications include aneurysm, vasculitis, heart arrhythmia, and heart attack. If the child’s condition is monitored most children can recover fully with no residual damage.

Continue Reading