What is Rheumatic Fever
Rheumatic fever is an inflammatory disease that can develop as a complication of inadequately treated strep throat or scarlet fever. Strep throat and scarlet fever are caused by an infection with group A streptococcus bacteria.
Rheumatic fever is most common in 5- to 15-year-old children, though it can develop in younger children and adults. Although strep throat is common, rheumatic fever is rare in the United States and other developed countries. However, rheumatic fever remains common in many developing nations.
What Causes Rheumatic Fever
The number one cause of rheumatic fever is strep throat. However, it has also been associated with scarlet fever. The body will sometimes attack its own tissues after it’s been infected with the strep throat bacteria. This reaction will cause widespread inflammation through the body that is the basis for all of the symptoms of rheumatic fever.
How can Rheumatic Fever affect the heart?
If your child has a bad attack of rheumatic fever, it may cause permanent damage to their heart valves. This is called rheumatic heart disease.
A heart valve acts like a one-way door. It makes sure that blood pumped by the heart flows in one direction only. When the heart valve is damaged it can leak and may cause:
Symptoms of Rheumatic Fever
Rheumatic fever signs and symptoms which result from inflammation in the heart, joints, skin or central nervous system may include:
- Painful and tender joints most often the ankles, knees, elbows or wrists; less often the shoulders, hips, hands and feet
- Pain in one joint that migrates to another joint
- Red, hot or swollen joints
- Small, painless nodules beneath the skin
- Chest pain
- Heart murmur
- Flat or slightly raised, painless rash with a ragged edge (erythema marginatum)
- Jerky, uncontrollable body movements (Sydenham chorea or St. Vitus’ dance) most often in the hands, feet and face
- Outbursts of unusual behavior, such as crying or inappropriate laughing, that accompanies Sydenham chorea
Most Effective Treatments for Rheumatic Fever
The most effective way to make sure that your child does not contract rheumatic fever is to make sure all strep bacteria are killed. In addition, doctors will treat the symptoms and control resulting inflammation. This can include any of the following.
Antibiotics: Doctors will prescribe antibiotics and, on occasion, will prescribe a long-term (up to five-year) treatment to prevent reoccurrence.
Anti-inflammatory Treatment: include pain relief medications that are also anti-inflammatory, such as aspirin or naproxen. Doctors may also prescribe a corticosteroid (a class of drug that decreases inflammation).
Anticonvulsant Medications: Your doctor might prescribe an anticonvulsant if involuntary movements become too severe.