Rheumatic fever is a disease that causes inflammation (swelling and redness) of many parts of the body. The disease can damage the heart, joints, brain, and skin.
Rheumatic fever is caused by a reaction to a strep throat infection. Why some people have this reaction to strep bacteria is not well understood. Rheumatic fever may happen when your body’s defense against infection attacks the body as well as the strep germ. It can affect different parts of the body.
Most children with strep throat do not get rheumatic fever. Your child is more at risk for rheumatic fever if he or she has had:
Your child’s risk is also higher if other family members have had rheumatic fever.
Symptoms, which usually start 2 to 3 weeks after a sore throat, may include:
Your healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and medical history and examine your child. Tests may include:
The treatment may include:
Rheumatic fever can last from 6 weeks to more than 6 months. Your child’s long-term health depends on how the heart has been affected by the disease. Rheumatic fever can weaken the heart muscle and affect the heart's ability to pump. The heart valves may also be affected. One or more valves may become scarred and after a while may have trouble opening and closing properly. Damage to the valves may not show up until years after the illness. Eventually, the valve may need to be repaired or replaced with surgery. Starting antibiotic treatment early when your child has rheumatic fever may prevent permanent damage to the heart. Your child may also need medicines to treat any heart symptoms.
It’s very important to keep from getting rheumatic fever again. Repeated infections increase the chances of permanent heart damage. Your child may need to take medicine daily, or get monthly shots to keep from having a strep infection again.
Tell your child’s healthcare provider if your child has a:
The best way to prevent rheumatic fever is by getting quick treatment for strep throat and scarlet fever.