Rheumatic fever is an inflammatory disease that may develop after an infection with group A Streptococcus bacteria (such as strep throat or scarlet fever). The disease can affect the heart, joints, skin, and brain.
Acute rheumatic fever
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Rheumatic fever is common worldwide and is responsible for many cases of damaged heart valves. It is not common in the United States, and usually occurs in isolated outbreaks. The latest outbreak was in the 1980s.
Rheumatic fever mainly affects children ages 5 -15, and occurs approximately 14-28 days after strep throat or scarlet fever.
Several major and minor criteria have been developed to help standardize rheumatic fever diagnosis. Meeting these criteria, as well as having evidence of a recent streptococcal infection, can help confirm that you have rheumatic fever.
You'll likely be diagnosed with rheumatic fever if you meet two major criteria, or one major and two minor criteria, and have signs that you've had a previous strep infection.
If you are diagnosed with acute rheumatic fever you will be treated with antibiotics.
Anti-inflammatory medications such as aspirin or corticosteroids reduce inflammation to help manage acute rheumatic fever.
You may have to take low doses of antibiotics (such as penicillin, sulfadiazine, or erythromycin) over the long term to prevent strep throat from returning.
If rheumatic fever returns, your doctor may recommend you take low-dose antibiotics continually, especially during the first 3 -5 years after the first episode of the disease. Heart complications may be severe, particularly if the heart valves are involved.
Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.