Rheumatic Fever: An Ailment That Can Have Serious Outcome If Neglected

Rheumatic fever (RF) affects the brain, skin, joints and the heart. It’s also called acute rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever usually develops after you develop strep throat or scarlet fever that’s not treated. To prevent rheumatic fever you need to diagnose and treat the above said ailments with antibiotics as soon as possible.¬†

Rheumatic fever
by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Pix4free


Rheumatic fever gets classified under the autoimmune disease class. The reason for this is usually because of an inflammation caused by the immune system’s reaction to a bacteria.¬†¬†

Although rheumatic fever tends to develop at any age, children between age 5 and 14 are at more risk of developing  it. Left untreated, the disease can take a very serious turn towards a more serious complication known as rheumatic heart disease. 

How Do You Get Affected With Rheumatic Fever?

If the above said ailments are not treated in time, they can have the path for RF A bacteria called group A Streptococcus or group A strep causes scarlet fever and strep throat. If left untreated, after 1 to 5 weeks of strep throat or scarlet fever, you are liable to develop RF.  According to studies, rheumatic fever is the response of our body to defend our immune system from harmful bacteria. The immune system in return responds to the earlier signs of the above said ailments by causing a general inflammatory response. 

Is Rheumatic Fever Contagious?

As the disease is the body’s immune response. It’s not an infection. Thus, it is not contagious. However, those with scarlet fever or strep throat, are liable to spread the group A strep to others around them, primarily via their respiratory droplets.¬†

To be on the safe side, if you notice any of these symptoms, you should consult with a doctor immediately. The symptoms for a possible onset of RF are:

  • Painful and inflamed joints¬†
  • Fever
  • Raised rash or erythema marginatum and/or lumps under the skin around the infected joints
  • Fatigue
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Nervous system problems including twitches or Sydenham‚Äôs chorea, also known as Saint Vitus’ dance or involuntary movements
  • Heart problems like enlarged heart (cardiomegaly), inflammation (carditis), heart murmur or rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)
  • Chest pain and breathlessness¬†Rheumatic fever

In addition to the above other symptoms could include: 

  • Fluid around the heart
  • A new heart murmur¬†
  • An enlarged heart¬†

How Is Rheumatic Fever Diagnosed? 

Unfortunately, there is no single test that confirms you have rheumatic fever. Rather the doctor has to look for signs and also look into your family’s medical history and ask you to get some tests done. The tests can be either one or more of the following:

  • A throat swab to check for group A strep infections¬†
  • A blood test to check if you have had any antibodies that show if you have had group A strep infections
  • An EKG or an electrocardiogram to check how well your heart is doing¬†
  • And an echo or echocardiography to make a movie of your hearts muscles working progress

Treatment Is Very Important 

The aim of the rheumatic fever is go destroy any remaining group A strep bacteria to relieve the symptoms. The treatment helps control the inflammation and prevents the condition from reoccurring again.

There are various treatments for rheumatic fever:

Antibiotics: In general, rheumatic fever affects children. So, the first step would be to prescribe penicillin or any antibiotics to destroy any remaining bacteria. After the first course is complete, your doctor will prescribe another course of antibiotics to make sure there is no recurrence of the fever. 

The prevention treatment will probably continue till your child is 21 years old or till your child completes minimum 5-year treatment course. Or whichever is more longer. 

Patients with heart inflammation during rheumatic fever might be told to continue taking the prevention antibiotics for 10 or more years. 

Anti-inflammatory treatment: If you have inflammation, your doctor will prescribe some pain relievers. They will help in reducing the fever, inflammation and the pain. If the symptoms persist, the doctor could change the medication and prescribe corticosteroid.

Anticonvulsant medicine: If the patient is showing severe involuntary movements due to Sydenham chorea, your doctor would prescribe anti-seizure medications. 

Rheumatic fever
Sinus rhythm improvement with proper treatment

Rheumatic Fever and Rheumatic Heart Disease, What’s The Connection Between Them¬†

The connection between the two is, the latter is mostly diagnosed after you are diagnosed with rheumatic fever. Though the fever does not always affect, when it does, it damages the heart tissues. The heart valves in particular. Because of the damage the scarred heart¬† tissues don’t work properly. Untreated, can lead to permanent heart damage. Apart from being called rheumatic heart disease, it’s also called congestive heart failure.¬†

If your heart valve gets damaged beyond repair, you might need surgery to repair the affected valve. In some cases the heart damage shows up 10 to 20 years after being treated for rheumatic fever. Therefore, even if you are clear from rheumatic fever, you should stay in touch with your doctor throughout your life. 

Can The Fever Reoccur? 

Yes. If you get scarlet fever or strep throat again, you’re likely to get fever again as well. If you’ve already been diagnosed with rheumatic fever, your doctor will have already prescribed you with antibiotics to take for some years or probably lifetime. The treatment is known as antibiotic prophylaxis. It helps I’m preventing another strep throat infection keeping you safe from another bout of rheumatic fever.¬†

What Do I Need To Ask From The Doctor?

Whether it’s you or your child diagnosed with rheumatic fever, there must be plenty of questions in your mind. And, you should clear your mind regarding any doubt. But there are some questions you should ask whether it’s you or your child, like:¬†

  • Which antibiotic is your doctor recommending?¬†
  • How long will it take for the medication to go for?
  • Will you or your child have to take antibiotics for a long time?
  • Will there be more tests needed now or later on?¬†
  • How will the fever affect your or your child’s present and future?
  • Ask for which activities to avoid that could pose danger?¬†
  • Which type of medical care will be needed to move forward to live a healthy life?
  • How to best protect your or your child’s health?

When Do You Need Medical Aid? 

If you suspect your child, you or someone in your family is showing signs of scarlet fever or strep throat, visit your doctor immediately. The early the treatment, the better. 

Some Common Signs:

There are some common signs that point towards a bacterial infection:

  • If the sore throat is longer than three days.¬†
  • Lose of appetite, in particular have problems in swallowing.
  • Swollen lymph nodes around the neck.
  • Fever and a red rash.¬†
  • Tonsils are spotted, red or swollen.¬†
  • Frequent headaches.¬†

On An Endnote:

Though it is considered as a rare illness. Unless you have scarlet fever or strep throat infection, that is not treated. And, it mostly affects teens and young children. In severe cases, it even leads to serious heart complications, organ and joint infections.

If you visit your doctor in time, you can prevent rheumatic fever and any further damage. If diagnosed with rheumatic fever, the medical care will go on for lifetime, and you should stay in contact with your doctor.