Rheumatic fever is a disease that causes inflammation, swelling, and redness of various parts of the body. Permanent damage and scarring of the heart and heart valves may also occur. The disease can damage the joints, central nervous system, and skin. Rheumatic fever is rare. When it does occur, it is most common in children ages 5 to 15.
Rheumatic fever is a rare complication of a strep throat infection or scarlet fever (a strep throat infection with a rash). It is caused by a reaction to group A Streptococcus bacteria. Rheumatic fever occurs within 1 to 5 weeks after having a strep throat infection. Exactly why and how some people have this reaction to strep bacteria is not well understood. It appears to involve an abnormal response of the body's immune system.
Symptoms of rheumatic fever are similar to many other types of illness. This is why a diagnosis cannot be made from just one sign or symptom. Signs and symptoms that are used to make the diagnosis include:
Sometimes, but not commonly, there are pink or light red, nonitching blotches on the skin or small bumps under the skin on the elbows or knees.
Your child will have a blood test to see if he or she has or has had a recent group A Strep infection. If your child has had a strep infection, your provider will check to see how many rheumatic fever symptoms your child has. Other tests may be done to check for inflammation of the heart or heart rhythm problems.
Your child will need to start taking antibiotics to make sure all the strep is gone. Your child's provider will also consider other medicines based on your child's symptoms. For children with arthritis, aspirin is usually very helpful. For children with inflammation of the heart (carditis), both aspirin and corticosteroid medicines are often needed. Children with nervous system problems may benefit from a variety of medicines that work on the nervous system. Ask your provider about these medicines.
Have your child:
The best prevention for children who have already had rheumatic fever is to take antibiotic medicines for several years to prevent another strep infection. Recurrent strep infections are common during the first 3 to 5 years after recovery without antibiotic therapy. Your child can get monthly shots or take oral antibiotics daily. Antibiotics may also need to be taken before surgery or dental work to prevent an infection. Ask your child's healthcare provider how long your child will need to take antibiotics.
Rheumatic fever can last from 6 weeks to more than 6 months. Some of the damage, particularly to the heart, may be permanent. Your child's long-term health depends on how his or her heart has been affected by the disease. Rheumatic fever can weaken the heart muscle cells and interfere with the heart's ability to pump. The inflammation may also affect the heart valves. The valves may become deformed and not close or open properly. This damage to the valves may not show up until years after the illness.
Call during office hours if your child has: