Kawasaki Disease

Kawasaki disease involves the skin, mucous membranes and lymph nodes. It causes fever and most often affects kids under age 5. It is more common among children of Japanese and Korean descent. Doctors do not know the exact cause of Kawasaki disease, but it is probably associated with a combination of genetic predispositions, contact with certain viruses and bacteria, and other environment factors including chemicals.

If a Kawasaki disease diagnosis is made early, kids can fully recover within a few days. Untreated, it can lead to serious complications that can affect the heart.

Children with the disease who don’t receive treatment in the early stages can develop vasculitis — inflammation of the blood vessels. This condition can be particularly dangerous because it can affect the coronary arteries, the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart.

Inflammation also can affect the heart muscle, lining, valves and the outer membrane around the heart. Other complications include arrhythmias (changes in the normal heart rhythm) or abnormal functioning of some heart valves.

Related: COVID-19 and Kawasaki disease: What should parents know?

The board-certified and fellowship-trained specialists at Norton Children’s Heart Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, have the experience and skills to make the diagnosis of Kawasaki disease and treat the coronary vasculitis and other manifestations of Kawasaki disease.

Norton Children’s has a network of outreach diagnostic and treatment services conveniently located throughout Kentucky and Southern Indiana.

Norton Children’s Heart Institute providers can manage the complications of Kawasaki disease following diagnosis. Most children will feel better within two days of starting treatment. Heart issues usually won’t develop if treatment begins within 10 days of the start of symptoms.

Kawasaki disease is initially treated with intravenous gamma globulin (purified antibodies from pooled donor blood). Most kids recover completely, but some can develop coronary artery abnormalities after having Kawasaki disease, and they will require further testing and treatments directed by a specialist at Norton Children’s Heart Institute.

Kawasaki Disease Symptoms

The symptoms of Kawasaki disease usually appear in phases. The first phase, which can last for up to two weeks, usually involves a fever that lasts for at least five days.

Other symptoms include:

  • Severe redness in the eyes
  • A rash on the stomach, chest and genitals
  • Red, dry, cracked lips
  • Swollen tongue with a white coating and big red bumps (called “strawberry tongue”)
  • Sore, irritated throat
  • Swelling and a purple-red color in the palms of the hands and soles of the feet
  • Swollen lymph nodes

During the second phase, which usually begins within two weeks of the fever’s start, skin on the hands and feet may begin to peel in large pieces. Treatment may not prevent this symptom. A child also may have joint pain, diarrheavomiting or abdominal pain.

If your child shows these symptoms, call your doctor.

Kawasaki disease can look similar to other common childhood viral and bacterial illnesses. No single test can detect Kawasaki disease, so doctors usually diagnose it by checking the symptoms and ruling out other conditions.

Kawasaki Disease Treatment

Treatment should start as soon as possible, ideally within 10 days of when the fever started. Usually, treatment involves intravenous doses of gamma globulin (purified antibodies from pooled donor blood) that helps the body fight infection.

Some kids with Kawasaki disease are put on a low dose of aspirin for a long time to prevent heart issues.

It’s very important for children taking aspirin routinely to get an annual flu shot to help prevent viral illnesses. Children who take aspirin during a viral illness are at risk for getting Reye syndrome, a rare but serious illness.

Why Choose Norton Children’s Heart Institute

The Adult Congenital Heart Association has recognized Norton Children's Heart Institute for its expertise treating adult congenital heart disease.

  • Norton Children’s Hospital has been a pioneer in pediatric cardiothoracic surgery, performing Kentucky’s first pediatric heart transplant in 1986 and becoming the second site in the United States to perform an infant heart transplant.
  • The American Board of Thoracic Surgery has certified our cardiothoracic surgeons in congenital heart surgery.
  • The Adult Congenital Heart Association has accredited Norton Children’s Heart Institute’s Adult Congenital Heart Program as the only comprehensive care center in Kentucky and Indiana treating adults born with a heart defect.
  • More than 5,000 children a year visit Norton Children’s Heart Institute for advanced heart care.
  • Norton Children’s Heart Institute has offices across Kentucky and Southern Indiana to bring quality pediatric heart care closer to home.
  • The Jennifer Lawrence Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU) at Norton Children’s Hospital is the largest dedicated CICU in Kentucky, equipped with 17 private rooms and the newest technology available for heart care.
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