Kawasaki disease (mucocutaneous lymph node syndrome) is a children's illness characterized by fever, rash, swelling of the hands and feet, irritation and redness of the whites of the eyes, swollen lymph glands in the neck, and irritation and inflammation of the mouth, lips and throat. These immediate effects of Kawasaki disease are rarely serious; however, long-term heart complications result in some cases and can be seen as early as two weeks after onset of the disease.
Named after Dr. Tomisaku Kawasaki, a Japanese pediatrician, the disease has probably been in existence for a long time, but was not recognized as a separate entity until 1967. The incidence is higher in Japan than in any other country. In the United States it is more frequent among children of Asian-American background, but can occur in any racial or ethnic group. The disease is relatively common, and in the United States it is a major cause of heart disease in children. In recent years, it has tended to occur in localized outbreaks, most often in the late winter or spring, but is seen year-round. Kawasaki disease almost always affects children; most patients are under 5 years old, and the average age is about 2. Boys develop the illness almost twice as often as girls.
The heart may be affected in as many as one of five children who develop Kawasaki disease. Damage sometimes occurs to the blood vessels that supply the heart muscle (the coronary arteries) and to the heart muscle itself. A weakening of a coronary artery can result in an enlargement or swelling of the blood vessel wall (an aneurysm). Infants less than 1 year old are usually the most seriously ill and are at greatest risk for heart involvement. The acute phase of Kawasaki disease commonly lasts 10 to 14 days or more. Most children recover fully. The likelihood of developing coronary artery disease later in life is not known, and remains the subject of medical investigation.
The cause of Kawasaki disease is unknown. It does not appear to be hereditary or contagious. Because the illness frequently occurs in outbreaks, an infectious agent (such as a virus) is the likely cause. It is very rare for more than one child in a family to develop Kawasaki disease.
Kawasaki Disease Complications, Treatment and Prevention
This content was last reviewed on 03/22/2013.