Kawasaki disease causes swelling (inflammation) in the walls of medium-sized arteries throughout the body. It primarily affects children. The inflammation tends to affect the coronary arteries, which supply blood to the heart muscle.
Kawasaki disease is sometimes called mucocutaneous lymph node syndrome because it also affects glands that swell during an infection (lymph nodes), skin, and the mucous membranes inside the mouth, nose and throat.
Signs of Kawasaki disease, such as a high fever and peeling skin, can be frightening. The good news is that Kawasaki disease is usually treatable, and most children recover from Kawasaki disease without serious problems.
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Kawasaki disease signs and symptoms usually appear in three phases.
Signs and symptoms of the first phase may include:
- A fever that is often is higher than 102.2 F (39 C) and lasts more than three days
- Extremely red eyes without a thick discharge
- A rash on the main part of the body and in the genital area
- Red, dry, cracked lips and an extremely red, swollen tongue
- Swollen, red skin on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet
- Swollen lymph nodes in the neck and perhaps elsewhere
In the second phase of the disease, your child may develop:
- Peeling of the skin on the hands and feet, especially the tips of the fingers and toes, often in large sheets
- Joint pain
- Abdominal pain
In the third phase of the disease, signs and symptoms slowly go away unless complications develop. It may be as long as eight weeks before energy levels seem normal again.
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Learn about a condition that causes similar symptoms to Kawasaki disease called MIS-C
When to see a doctor
If your child has a fever that lasts more than three days, contact your child's doctor. Also, see your child's doctor if your child has a fever along with four or more of the following signs and symptoms:
- Redness in both eyes
- A very red, swollen tongue
- Redness of the palms or soles
- Skin peeling
- A rash
- Swollen lymph nodes
Treating Kawasaki disease within 10 days of when it began may greatly reduce the chances of lasting damage.
No one knows what causes Kawasaki disease, but scientists don't believe the disease is contagious from person to person. A number of theories link the disease to bacteria, viruses or other environmental factors, but none has been proved. Certain genes may make your child more likely to get Kawasaki disease.
Three things are known to increase your child's risk of developing Kawasaki disease.
Age. Children under 5 years old are most at risk of Kawasaki disease.
Sex. Boys are slightly more likely than girls are to develop Kawasaki disease.
Ethnicity. Children of Asian or Pacific Island descent, such as Japanese or Korean, have higher rates of Kawasaki disease.
Kawasaki disease is a leading cause of acquired heart disease in children. However, with effective treatment, only a few children have lasting damage.
Heart complications include:
- Inflammation of blood vessels, usually the coronary arteries, that supply blood to the heart
- Inflammation of the heart muscle
- Heart valve problems
Any of these complications can damage your child's heart. Inflammation of the coronary arteries can lead to weakening and bulging of the artery wall (aneurysm). Aneurysms increase the risk of blood clots, which could lead to a heart attack or cause life-threatening internal bleeding.
For a very small percentage of children who develop coronary artery problems, Kawasaki disease can cause death, even with treatment.