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What is Kawasaki disease?

Kawasaki disease is a children's disease that in a small percentage of cases can affect the heart or coronary arteries. Most often, it weakens parts of the coronary artery walls, causing them to balloon out, which is called an aneurysm. Blood clots can form in the weakened areas and block the coronary artery, which may lead to Arrhythmia or abnormal functioning of the heart valves. In most cases, all heart problems associated with Kawasaki disease disappear in five or six weeks, causing no lasting damage. In some cases, however, damage to coronary arteries is permanent.

Who does it affect?

Most people who get Kawasaki disease are under age 5. Children over 8 are rarely affected. It is very rare for more than one child in a family to develop this disease, which is twice as common in boys and occurs more often in people of Asian descent. It can, however, occur in all racial and ethnic groups. Less than 2% of patients die from this disease.  


Doctors don't know what causes Kawasaki disease. It does not seem to be hereditary or contagious. Some scientists think it may be caused by a virus.  


Kawasaki disease causes fever, rash, swollen hands and feet, irritation and redness in the whites of the eyes, swollen lymph glands in the neck, and irritation of the mouth, lips and throat.  


A physical examination is usually the best way to diagnose Kawasaki disease.  


Even though the cause of Kawasaki disease remains unknown, certain medications have been proven useful in its treatment. ASA (Acetylsalicylic Acid, also known as Aspirin®) is often used to reduce fever, rash, joint inflammation and pain, and to help prevent blood clots from forming.

When given early on, a medication called intravenous gamma globulin (antibodies that are part of the immune system) can decrease the risk of developing coronary artery abnormalities.

Last reviewed August 2009.