Heart and Blood Conditions

Kawasaki Disease

What is Kawasaki disease?

Kawasaki (pronounced cow-a-SA-kee) disease is the most common cause of acquired heart disease in children. It affects about 7,000 children in the United States every year. Although most with Kawasaki disease are younger than 5 years, it can occur in children of all ages and even in young adults.

“Acquired” heart disease means it develops during childhood, rather than being present at birth (congenital). No one knows what causes it.

Kawasaki disease can affect many parts of a child’s body, including the lining of the mouth, nose and throat (mucous membranes), 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 called aneurysms. 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 the heart muscle (myocarditis) or the sac around the heart (pericarditis)

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, 1 in 5 children with Kawasaki disease have problems with their heart because of the disease.

It’s important to get care right away, because treatment is much more likely to be effective if given within the first 10 days of the start of symptoms.

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

Kawasaki Disease at Seattle Children’s

Our heart team has extensive experience with the diagnosis and treatment of children with Kawasaki disease. In a typical year, we see about 40 new children with this condition. We provide ongoing care to another 500 to 600 patients with Kawasaki disease.

Timely evaluation and treatment are essential to prevent the most serious effects of Kawasaki disease. For this reason, our Kawasaki disease specialists make seeing children with symptoms of the condition a top priority.

Our pharmacists are experienced in safely providing and monitoring the special medicines that children with Kawasaki disease need.

Some children need cardiac catheterization procedures to treat the narrowing of their arteries. We provide this treatment in one of our state-of-the-art cath labs, and have extensive experience caring for infants, children and adolescents.

Kawasaki Disease Clinic

Because we see so many patients with Kawasaki disease, we have a special Kawasaki Disease Clinic within the Heart Center. The clinic is staffed by pediatric heart doctors (cardiologists) who have developed special expertise and are dedicated to the diagnosis, treatment and continuing care of patients with Kawasaki disease.

The doctors in this clinic evaluate each patient individually. They’ll review your child’s medical history and laboratory studies in order to create a specialized plan of care for your child. We will address all your questions about how this disease affects your child.

Kawasaki Disease Research Program

Seattle Children’s is also a leader for research in the causes and effective treatment of Kawasaki disease.

Dr. Michael Portman leads a group that is working to provide new and more effective treatments, determine whether or not there is a genetic cause or a link to diet and develop a reliable test to diagnose the disease.

  • Dr. Portman is directing a multicenter clinical trial to see whether using a new medicine, etanercept, with the standard medicine (intravenous immunoglobulin [IVIG] and aspirin) improves how patients do over the short and long term.
  • More than 600 families have enrolled in Dr. Portman’s research to identify genetic factors that make children more likely to get Kawasaki disease or that affect how they respond to treatment.
  • There is a high rate of Kawasaki disease in Asia. This has raised questions about whether soy might make children more likely to get it. Dr. Portman is conducting a diet survey comparing our Kawasaki patients to a control group.

Read more about the Portman Research Group ’s activities.

Read more about Kawasaki disease at Seattle Children’s.

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 7,000 children in this country each year.

It’s not clear what causes Kawasaki disease. It is possible that infection might serve as a trigger for the body’s own immune system to attack itself. Kawasaki disease does not pass from person to person, like a virus does.

About 1 in every 5,000 children in the United States gets Kawasaki disease. In Japan and other Asian countries, it occurs in more than 10 in every 5,000 children.

Any child may get Kawasaki disease. 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 need to be followed and have regular check-ups to see if any problems develop. Some may need ongoing care for long-term issues.

Contact Us

Contact the Kawasaki Disease Clinic at 206-987-2015 for a referral, a second opinion or more information.