Heart and Blood Conditions

Kawasaki Disease

What Is Kawasaki Disease?

Kawasaki disease is a rare condition that occurs in children. Although most with Kawasaki disease are younger than 6 years, it can occur in children of all ages and even in young adults.

It can affect many parts of a child's body, including their mucous membranes (the lining of the mouth and breathing passages), skin, eyes, and lymph nodes (part of the immune system).

Kawasaki disease can also cause problems with the heart, including:

  • Inflammation of a child's blood vessels (vasculitis), especially their  coronary arteries. The coronary arteries supply the heart with blood. Inflammation can lead to enlargement of these arteries. Then a scar can form, narrowing the arteries. In the worst case, a clot can form in the arteries and block blood flow to the heart.
  • Swelling of their heart muscle (myocarditis) or the sac around their heart (pericarditis)
  • Arrhythmia  

The most serious problems from Kawasaki disease are the effects it may have on the heart and its arteries. According to the American Heart Association, Kawasaki disease affects the hearts of one in five children with the disease.

This disease is named after the Japanese doctor who first identified it in 1967, Tomisaku Kawasaki.

Kawasaki Disease in Children

Kawasaki disease is the leading cause of acquired (non-birth defect related) heart disease in children in the United States. Doctors diagnose Kawasaki disease in about 4,000 children in this country each year.

It's not clear what causes Kawasaki disease. Doctors think an infection from a virus may play a part. But Kawasaki disease does not pass from person to person, like a virus does.

About 20 in every 100,000 children get Kawasaki disease. Any child may get it. It's more common in boys and in Asian children. Most children with Kawasaki disease recover completely within weeks and do not have lasting problems. All children who've had this condition do need to be followed and have regular checkups to see if any problems develop. Some may need ongoing care for long-term issues.

Kawasaki Disease at Seattle Children's

Our heart team has treated many children with Kawasaki disease. In a typical year, we see about 40 children with this condition. We follow about 500 to 600 patients with Kawasaki disease. We have extensive experience with the diagnosis and treatment these patients require. Seattle Children's is also a leader for research in Kawasaki disease.

When you come to Children's, a team of people will take care of your child. Along with your child's cardiologist, you are connected with infectious disease specialists, rheumatologists, nurses, child life specialists, social workers and others, if their expertise is needed. We work together to meet all of your child's health needs and help your family through this experience.

Since 1907, Children's has been treating children only. Our team members are trained in their fields and also in meeting the unique needs of children. For example, the doctors who give your child anesthesia are board certified in pediatric anesthesiology. This means they have extra years of training in how to take care of kids. Our child life specialists know how to help children understand their illnesses and treatments in ways that make sense for their age. Our expertise in pediatrics truly makes a difference for our patients and families.

Read more about Kawasaki disease at Seattle Children's.