Rheumatic fever is an inflammatory disease that can develop as a rare complication of untreated or undertreated strep throat infection. Strep throat is caused by infection with group A streptococcus. Rheumatic fever is most common in children between the ages of 5 and 15 years, though it can develop in adults, and can cause damage to the heart, joints, the brain and spinal cord, and the skin.
Symptoms of rheumatic (roo-MAT-ik) fever generally appear within a few weeks after a strep throat infection. In the United States, most cases of strep throat don't lead to rheumatic fever. Even in untreated cases, only a small percentage of people with strep throat develop rheumatic fever.
It can be prevented by prompt and complete treatment of a strep throat infection with antibiotics.
Permanent heart damage resulting from rheumatic fever is called rheumatic heart disease. Rheumatic fever commonly damages the heart valves (rheumatic carditis) and can interfere with normal blood flow through the heart.
Rheumatic fever isn't as common in the United States today as it was at the start of the 20th century, before the widespread use of the antibiotics. Outbreaks do occur periodically, however. Rheumatic fever is still common in developing countries.
What causes it?
Research suggests that rheumatic fever is caused by the body’s immune system acting inappropriately as a complication of strep throat. The body’s immune cells are unable to distinguish between Group A streptococcus bacteria’s antigens and antigens present on the body’s own cells, resulting in the immune cells attacking the body. However, some people develop rheumatic fever that never had an obvious throat infection and test negative after a throat culture
What are the symptoms of rheumatic fever?
The symptoms of rheumatic fever usually start about one to five weeks after your child has been infected with streptococcus bacteria. The following are the most common symptoms of rheumatic fever. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
Symptoms of rheumatic fever may resemble other medical conditions. Always consult a physician for a diagnosis.