Rheumatic fever is an uncommon inflammation of the heart, nervous system, skin, and joints after a recent bacterial infection. Rheumatic fever usually occurs in children younger than 18. Rheumatic fever cannot be caught, but the infection that causes it can.
Rheumatic fever is an autoimmune disorder, which means that the body reacts against its own cells or tissues. A recent strep throat infection triggers it. The infection with the bacteria named Streptococcus may have been mild or untreated. Substances called antibodies produced during the infection also attack and can destroy cells in the joints, the heart, and other body parts.
Symptoms include fever, loss of appetite, mild rash, tiredness, paleness, small bumps under the skin over bony areas (such as hands, wrists, elbows, and knuckles), and joint inflammation with pain, swelling, and warmth.
If the heart is affected, shortness of breath, swelling of the ankles and around the eyes, and rapid heartbeat may occur. If the brain is affected, uncontrolled jerky movements may occur.
The most common complication is damage to heart valves that causes a heart murmur. Sometimes the damaged valves may need to be replaced.
The health care provider will suspect a diagnosis from the medical history, physical examination, and laboratory tests. A chest x-ray, electrocardiography (ECG), and throat culture will be done. The health care provider will order another test called echocardiography to look for heart valve damage.
If heart damage is present, you will be referred to a cardiologist (a doctor who specializes in heart diseases).
Children must limit their activity until symptoms are gone, which could take 2 to 5 weeks.
Antibiotics for the bacteria will be given for several days. Tell your health care provider if your child is allergic to penicillin.
In the early stages a liquid or soft diet may be better. Later a normal diet that is high in calories, protein, and vitamins is followed.
Aspirin or other antiinflammatory drugs are given for muscle and joint pain.
Contact the following sources: