Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

brand logo

Am Fam Physician. 1999;59(11):3107-3108

See related article on Kawasaki disease.

What is Kawasaki disease?

Kawasaki disease (say: kah-wuh-sock-ee) is an illness that young children can get (usually children under age 5). It can cause any of these symptoms:

  • Fever

  • Skin rash

  • Bloodshot eyes

  • Swollen lymph nodes

  • Heart problems

  • Joint problems

What causes Kawasaki disease?

No one knows what causes Kawasaki disease. Some doctors think it may be caused by a virus or a bacteria. The illness can last from two weeks to a few months.

How does my doctor know my child has Kawasaki disease?

Your doctor has given your child an exam and asked about his or her symptoms. There isn't a special test for Kawasaki disease, but your doctor may do some tests to see if another illness could be causing the symptoms.

Children with Kawasaki disease have a fever (sometimes as high as 104°F) for five days or longer. Usually, they also have at least four of the following symptoms:

  • A red, patchy rash that may cover the whole body

  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck

  • Swollen and red hands and feet and, later in the illness, peeling skin on the fingers and toes

  • Changes in the lips and mouth, such as red, cracked lips, a very red tongue, and redness in the mouth and the back of the throat

  • Red, “bloodshot” eyes

Some children with Kawasaki disease have diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pain. Kawasaki disease might make your child very irritable and cross.

How serious is Kawasaki disease?

It can make you a little scared to find out your child has Kawasaki disease. Your child won't feel well, and the rash and other signs of Kawasaki disease may look scary. Just remember that most children with Kawasaki disease get well with no problems.

However, Kawasaki disease can cause heart problems in 5% to 20% of untreated children. If your child gets heart problems from Kawasaki disease, your doctor will talk with you about any special care your child needs.

Kawasaki disease can also cause problems like swelling in your child's joints, but these problems usually go away without special treatment. It helps if your doctor finds out about the Kawasaki disease at an early stage and starts treatment soon. Early treatment means your child probably won't get lasting heart problems or joint problems.

How is Kawasaki disease treated?

Your doctor will prescribe medicines to make your child feel better and to prevent the problems Kawasaki disease can cause.

Your doctor may give your child high doses of aspirin to lower the fever. Aspirin also helps with the rash and the joint pain. It can keep your child's blood from making clots.

After the fever goes down, your doctor might give your child a lower dose of aspirin for several weeks to reduce the chance of heart problems. (However, if your child gets the flu or chickenpox during this time, you'll have to stop giving your child aspirin for a while. When children take aspirin during the flu or chickenpox, they might get another illness called “Reye's syndrome.”)

Your doctor might also give your child a medicine called immunoglobulin to help prevent heart problems. Immunoglobulin is given intravenously (through your child's veins) for several hours. It has to be given in the hospital.

How soon will my child be over the Kawasaki disease?

It usually takes a few weeks for a child to get over Kawasaki disease. You'll have to keep your child home from school or day care until he or she feels strong enough to return.

Continue Reading

More in AFP

Copyright © 1999 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

This content is owned by the AAFP. A person viewing it online may make one printout of the material and may use that printout only for his or her personal, non-commercial reference. This material may not otherwise be downloaded, copied, printed, stored, transmitted or reproduced in any medium, whether now known or later invented, except as authorized in writing by the AAFP.  See permissions for copyright questions and/or permission requests.