This Review summarizes recent advances in understanding of the pathologic processes and pathophysiologic mechanisms leading to coronary arteritis in Kawasaki disease, and describes current approaches to its treatment. Kawasaki disease is the most common cause of acquired heart disease among children in developed countries, in whom the resulting coronary artery abnormalities can cause myocardial ischaemia, infarction and even death. Epidemiologic data strongly suggest an infectious aetiology, although the causative agent has yet to be identified. Genetic factors also increase susceptibility to Kawasaki disease, as indicated by its strikingly high incidence rate in children of Asian ethnicity and by an increased incidence in first-degree family members. The treatment of Kawasaki disease is based on timely administration of intravenous immunoglobulin and aspirin. However, the management of patients who do not respond to this standard therapy remains challenging; although several options are available, comparative data on which to base treatment decisions are scarce. The added value of adjunctive therapy with corticosteroids in patients at particularly high risk of coronary complications has been demonstrated in Japanese populations, but identification of high-risk patients has proven to be difficult in ethnically diverse populations.