Kawasaki Disease: Overview

What is Kawasaki disease?

Kawasaki disease was first described in the 1960s by a pediatrician in Japan named Dr. Tomisaku Kawasaki. Dr. Kawasaki described it as a new disease that was occurring in previously healthy young children. Fifty years later, with the cause of Kawasaki still unknown, doctors and researchers remain searching for answers to the very puzzling disease.

Most children with Kawasaki disease become ill with the condition before they are five years old. It starts with a high fever that often lasts five days or more. Children develop a rash over most of their body, swollen lymph nodes, red bloodshot eyes (conjunctivitis), red cracked lips, and swollen, peeling fingers and toes.

In addition to the visible symptoms, inflammation also occurs on the inside of the body in the blood vessels. This is a concern because the blood vessels that supply blood to the heart (coronary arteries) can be affected. In some cases, inflammation can damage the blood vessels or even the heart muscle itself.

What causes Kawasaki disease?

Although the cause of the disease is not known, doctors and researchers (including many here at Children’s Hospital Colorado) think it may be an autoimmune disease caused by an abnormal reaction of a child’s own immune system. 

If properly treated, full recovery can be expected in most cases, but the possibilities of blood vessel and heart disease in later life remain subjects of medical investigation.

Get resources and learn more from the Kawasaki Kids Foundation.