Rheumatic Fever

What is Rheumatic Fever?

Rheumatic Fever is an acute fever that causes inflammation and joint pain. It can lead to damage of the heart, stroke or even death if it goes untreated.  It is a complication of having strep throat and appears most often in children between 5-15 years of age.

Older children and adults can get rheumatic fever, too.  In some countries, like Africa, Asia, and some parts of Australia and New Zealand, it is still fairly common but it does not occur in other countries very frequently.

This inflammatory disorder is caused by group A streptococcus that causes inflammation through the entire body and can derive from untreated strep throat or scarlet fever.

What are the Symptoms of Rheumatic Fever?

Not all strep throat infections result in rheumatic fever and if the strep throat is treated quickly it can be avoided.  Strep throat is characterized by a sore throat, sometimes with swollen and sore lymph nodes, rash, a temperature over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 °C), white spots on the tonsils, bloody discharge from the nose, nausea, headache, and vomiting.

If these symptoms occur, a doctor should be seen immediately.

Rheumatic fever symptoms occur 2-4 weeks after being diagnosed with strep throat and include nodules or bumps under the skin, nosebleeds, fatigue, heart palpitations or flutters, joint pain and swelling, shortness of breath, stomach pain, fever, vomiting, and rash.

How is Rheumatic Fever Treated?

There are several course of treatment for rheumatic fever.  Antibiotics are usually the first step and doctors might prescribe antibiotics over the longer term to prevent rheumatic fever from reoccurring. Pain medications and corticosteroids may be prescribed to address inflammation. If involuntary movements are part of the symptoms, anticonvulsant medications may be prescribed.  Finally, bed rest and restricted activities are recommended for as long as a few months, depending on the severity of the rheumatic fever.

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Last Reviewed:
September 14, 2016
Last Updated:
August 23, 2017