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Kawasaki Disease Clinical Presentation

  • Author: Noah S Scheinfeld, JD, MD, FAAD; Chief Editor: Russell W Steele, MD  more...
Updated: Sep 13, 2015


Most children with Kawasaki disease are brought to medical attention because of prolonged fever. Diagnosis of complete cases requires fever of at least 5 days’ duration (though many believe that the diagnosis can be made earlier in otherwise classic presentations). Affected children are usually more irritable than would be expected for the degree of fever. Antibiotic therapy may have been initiated for other diagnoses, but fever persists.

Parents may note that the fever began abruptly. Baker et al found that nonspecific symptoms commonly precede the onset of fever by several days. In order of decreasing frequency, these included the following[14] :

  • Irritability
  • Vomiting
  • Decreased oral intake
  • Cough
  • Diarrhea
  • Rhinorrhea
  • Weakness
  • Abdominal pain
  • Joint pain

Disease phases

The clinical presentation of Kawasaki disease varies over time, with the clinical course conventionally divided into 3 stages: acute, subacute, and convalescent (see the image below). Some authors add a fourth, chronic, phase.

Clinical manifestations and time course of Kawasak Clinical manifestations and time course of Kawasaki disease.

Stage 1: acutefebrilestage

The acute stage begins with an abrupt onset of fever and lasts approximately 7-14 days. The fever is typically high-spiking and remittent, with peak temperatures ranging from 102-104°F (39-40°C) or higher. This fever is not responsive to antibiotics or antipyretics and can persist for up to 3-4 weeks if untreated. With appropriate therapy, high-dose aspirin, and intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG), the fever typically remits within 48 hours.

In addition to fever, signs and symptoms of this phase may include the following:

  • Irritability
  • Nonexudative bilateral conjunctivitis (90%)
  • Anterior uveitis (70%)
  • Perianal erythema (70%)
  • Erythema and edema on the hands and feet; the latter impedes ambulation
  • Strawberry tongue and lip fissures
  • Hepatic, renal, and GI dysfunction
  • Myocarditis and pericarditis
  • Lymphadenopathy (75%), generally a single, enlarged, nonsuppurative cervical node measuring approximately 1.5 cm

The mucocutaneous changes and lymphadenopathy are most evident during the acute phase. However, note that erythema and edema of the hands and feet may be the last finding to develop. The diagnosis should be made in this phase.

Stage 2: subacute stage

The subacute stage begins when the fevers have abated, and it continues until week 4-6. The hallmarks of this stage are desquamation of the digits, thrombocytosis (the platelet count may exceed 1 million/μL), and the development of coronary aneurysms. The risk for sudden death is highest at this stage.

Other characteristics of the subacute stage are by persistent irritability, anorexia, and conjunctival injection. Persistence of fever beyond 2-3 weeks may be an indication of recrudescent Kawasaki disease. If fever persists, the outcome is less favorable because of a greater risk of cardiac complications.

Stage 3: convalescent phase

The convalescent phase is marked by complete resolution of clinical signs of the illness, usually within 3 months of presentation. This stage begins with the return to baseline of the acute phase reactants (eg, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, C-reactive protein) and other laboratory abnormalities. During this stage, most of the clinical findings resolve; however, deep transverse grooves across the nails (Beau lines) may become apparent 1-2 months after the onset of fever.

During the convalescent stage, cardiac abnormalities may still be apparent. Smaller coronary artery aneurysms tend to resolve on their own (60% of cases), but larger aneurysms may expand, and myocardial infarction may occur. In patients whose echocardiograms were previously normal, however, detection of new aneurysms is unusual after week 8 of the illness.

Chronic phase

This stage is of clinical importance only in patients who have developed cardiac complications. Its duration is of lifetime significance because an aneurysm formed in childhood may rupture in adulthood. In some cases of aneurysms rupturing in adult life, careful reviews of past medical histories have revealed febrile childhood illnesses of unknown etiology.


Physical Examination

Because no specific test can be performed for Kawasaki disease and no clinical feature is pathognomonic, the diagnosis of Kawasaki disease is based on the presence of a constellation of clinical findings.[1, 2, 3, 4, 5] The diagnostic criteria established by the American Heart Association (AHA) include fever lasting longer than 5 days (fever is an absolute criterion) and 4 of the 5 main clinical features, after diseases with similar findings have been excluded. The 5 major clinical findings are as follows:

  • Changes in the peripheral extremities: Initial reddening or edema of the palms and soles, followed by membranous desquamation of the finger and toe tips or transverse grooves across the fingernails and toenails (Beau lines)
  • Polymorphous rash (not vesicular): Usually generalized but may be limited to the groin or lower extremities
  • Oropharyngeal changes: Erythema, fissuring, and crusting of the lips; strawberry tongue; diffuse mucosal injection of the oropharynx
  • Bilateral, nonexudative, painless bulbar conjunctival injection
  • Acute nonpurulent cervical lymphadenopathy with lymph node diameter greater than 1.5 cm, usually unilateral

The most recent version of the AHA guidelines suggest that if a patient presents with 4 or more of the principal criteria, Kawasaki disease can be diagnosed on day 4 of the fever. Experienced clinicians who have treated many Kawasaki disease patients may establish diagnosis before day 4. Patients who present with coronary artery disease can be diagnosed with Kawasaki disease if they have at least 3 of the 5 major diagnostic criteria.[66]

Kawasaki disease is a diagnosis of exclusion, so other diseases with similar findings (see Differentials) must first be ruled out. Patients with fever who appear to have Kawasaki disease but do not meet diagnostic criteria and have no other identified cause of their illness are said to have atypical or incomplete Kawasaki disease. Laboratory testing supports the diagnosis in these cases (see Workup).

In published cases, 10-45% of patients have incomplete or atypical clinical presentations. The 2 findings that are most commonly absent are cervical lymphadenopathy and polymorphous rash. Cervical lymphadenopathy is the least common of all clinical features, occurring in approximately 40% of cases in the United States; it is more common in Asia. Least likely to be absent are mucous membrane changes, which occur in more than 90% of patients with either typical or atypical forms of the disease.

Japanese researchers have reported a severe form of Kawasaki disease presenting as only fever and cervical lymphadenopathy. These patients are at increased risk of nonresponse to IVIG therapy or development of a coronary artery abnormality.[67]

The erythema, edema, and desquamation in the extremities may limit movement and cause the child to refuse to bear weight. Desquamation of the fingers and toes begins in the periungual region, may involve the palms and soles, and is usually observed 1-2 weeks after the onset of fever. Occurrence is approximately 75%. (See the image below of peeling and erythema.)

Peeling and erythema of the fingertips. Peeling and erythema of the fingertips.

Cervical lymphadenopathy is usually greater than 1.5 cm and unilateral. Changes in the lips and oral cavity include pharyngeal erythema, dry/fissured or swollen lips, and strawberry tongue (occurrence is approximately 90%). The tongue is described as a strawberry tongue because of the diffuse erythema and prominent papillae. (See the images below of related oral manifestations.)

Pediatrics, Kawasaki disease. Note the appearance Pediatrics, Kawasaki disease. Note the appearance of the hand and lips. Photo courtesy of Sam Richardson, MD.
Strawberry tongue. Strawberry tongue.
Oral manifestations of Kawasaki disease: red lips Oral manifestations of Kawasaki disease: red lips and strawberry tongue.

Other findings

Central nervous system findings are reported. Nearly all children with Kawasaki disease are extremely irritable, 33% can present with lethargy, and the neck may be stiff enough to raise suspicion of meningitis. Aseptic meningitis (ie, with cerebrospinal fluid pleocytosis) may be present in half of all patients. Less frequently (and often a temporary finding), patients develop unilateral facial palsy or high-frequency sensorineural hearing loss. Facial palsy has been reported.

Gastrointestinal system findings include diarrhea, vomiting, and abdominal pain in 33% of patients. Rarely, hepatic enlargement and jaundice may occur.

Musculoskeletal system findings occur early in the illness, with patients experiencing diffuse arthralgia that involves multiple joints, both large and small. In the subacute phase, 20-40% of patients present with arthralgia or arthritis, both of which tend to favor the large weight-bearing joints.

Erythema and induration at the site of bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) inoculation is commonly observed in Japan. This is rare in the United States.

In addition to the classic mucocutaneous signs, unusual dermatologic manifestations may include the following[68] :

  • Pustules
  • Erythema multiforme–like lesions
  • Perianal desquamation
  • Macules
  • Papules
  • Measleslike rash
  • Scarlet fever–like rash
  • Pustulovesicular skin eruption
  • Pustular rash

Other clinical features of the disease may include the following:

  • Dehydration from fever and anorexia
  • Pneumonitis
  • Otitis media
  • Orchitis
  • Meatitis, vulvitis, urethritis
  • Uveitis
  • Peripheral extremity gangrene (extremely rare)

A study that reported on the role of respiratory viruses in the pathogenesis of Kawasaki disease found that more than 40% of children with Kawasaki disease also tested positive for respiratory viruses when they were admitted to the hospital. As a result the authors note that a positive respiratory viral PCR or presence of respiratory symptoms at the time of presentation should not be used to exclude a diagnosis of Kawasaki disease.[69, 70]

For more information on features of this illness, see the Medscape Reference articles Dermatologic Manifestations of Kawasaki Disease and Ophthalmologic Manifestations of Kawasaki Disease.

Contributor Information and Disclosures

Noah S Scheinfeld, JD, MD, FAAD Assistant Clinical Professor, Department of Dermatology, Weil Cornell Medical College; Consulting Staff, Department of Dermatology, St Luke's Roosevelt Hospital Center, Beth Israel Medical Center, New York Eye and Ear Infirmary; Assistant Attending Dermatologist, New York Presbyterian Hospital; Assistant Attending Dermatologist, Lenox Hill Hospital, North Shore-LIJ Health System; Private Practice

Noah S Scheinfeld, JD, MD, FAAD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Dermatology

Disclosure: Serve(d) as a speaker or a member of a speakers bureau for: Abbvie<br/>Received income in an amount equal to or greater than $250 from: Optigenex<br/>Received salary from Optigenex for employment.


Steven J Parrillo, DO, FACOEP, FACEP Clinical Adjunct Professor, Medical Director and Faculty, Disaster Medicine and Management Masters Program, Philadelphia University College of Health Sciences; Associate Professor, Clinical and Educational Scholarship Track, Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University; Director, Division of EMS and Disaster Medicine, Albert Einstein Healthcare Network

Steven J Parrillo, DO, FACOEP, FACEP is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Emergency Physicians, American College of Osteopathic Emergency Physicians, American Osteopathic Association, World Association for Disaster and Emergency Medicine

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Paul R Ogershok, MD Allergist, Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology Clinic, Southwest Regional Medical Center

Paul R Ogershok, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, Pennsylvania Medical Society, West Virginia State Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Elena L Jones, MD Clinical Assistant Professor of Dermatology, Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons; Clinic Chief, Department of Dermatology, St Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Chief Editor

Russell W Steele, MD Clinical Professor, Tulane University School of Medicine; Staff Physician, Ochsner Clinic Foundation

Russell W Steele, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American Association of Immunologists, American Pediatric Society, American Society for Microbiology, Infectious Diseases Society of America, Louisiana State Medical Society, Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, Society for Pediatric Research, Southern Medical Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.


Jeffrey Glenn Bowman, MD, MS Consulting Staff, Highfield MRI, Columbus, Ohio

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Lawrence H Brent, MD Associate Professor of Medicine, Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University; Chair, Program Director, Department of Medicine, Division of Rheumatology, Albert Einstein Medical Center

Lawrence H Brent, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Association of Immunologists, American College of Physicians, and American College of Rheumatology

Disclosure: Genentech Honoraria Speaking and teaching; Genentech Grant/research funds Other; Amgen Honoraria Speaking and teaching; Pfizer Honoraria Speaking and teaching; Abbott Immunology Honoraria Speaking and teaching; Takeda Honoraria Speaking and teaching; UCB Speaking and teaching; Omnicare Consulting fee Consulting; Centocor Consulting fee Consulting

Herbert S Diamond, MD Professor of Medicine, Temple University School of Medicine; Chairman Emeritus, Department of Internal Medicine, Western Pennsylvania Hospital

Herbert S Diamond, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American College of Physicians, American College of Rheumatology, American Medical Association, and Phi Beta Kappa

Disclosure: Merck Ownership interest Other; Smith Kline Ownership interest Other; Zimmer Ownership interest Other

Joseph Domachowske, MD Professor of Pediatrics, Microbiology and Immunology, Department of Pediatrics, Division of Infectious Diseases, State University of New York Upstate Medical University

Joseph Domachowske, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Alpha Omega Alpha, American Academy of Pediatrics, American Society for Microbiology, Infectious Diseases Society of America, Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, and Phi Beta Kappa

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Kristine M Lohr, MD, MS Professor, Department of Internal Medicine, Center for the Advancement of Women's Health and Division of Rheumatology, Director, Rheumatology Training Program, University of Kentucky College of Medicine

Kristine M Lohr, MD, MS is a member of the following medical societies: American College of Physicians and American College of Rheumatology

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Catherine V Parrillo, DO, FACOP, FAAP, Retired, Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Pediatrics, Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine

Catherine V Parrillo, DO, FACOP, FAAP, is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Osteopathic Pediatricians, and American Osteopathic Association

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose

Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD Adjunct Assistant Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Medscape Reference Salary Employment

Martin Weisse, MD Program Director, Associate Professor, Department of Pediatrics, West Virginia University

Martin Weisse, MD is a member of the following medical societies: Ambulatory Pediatric Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Mary L Windle, PharmD Adjunct Associate Professor, University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Pharmacy; Editor-in-Chief, Medscape Drug Reference

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

Grace M Young, MD Associate Professor, Department of Pediatrics, University of Maryland Medical Center

Grace M Young, MD is a member of the following medical societies: American Academy of Pediatrics and American College of Emergency Physicians

Disclosure: Nothing to disclose.

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Patchy generalized macular erythema, which is also typical of some viral exanthems.
Peeling and erythema of the fingertips.
Strawberry tongue.
Pediatrics, Kawasaki disease. Note the appearance of the hand and lips. Photo courtesy of Sam Richardson, MD.
Clinical manifestations and time course of Kawasaki disease.
Oral manifestations of Kawasaki disease: red lips and strawberry tongue.
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