What is rheumatic fever? Rheumatic fever is usually the result of a battle with strep throat or scarlet fever, and typically appears in youths between 5 and 15 years of age. But this is not always the case.
In this article, we are going to take a closer look at rheumatic fever and help you demystify the sometimes fatal disorder. We will examine the rheumatic fever symptoms, causes, and treatments.
By the time you are done reading this, you should have a basic understanding of rheumatic fever and the steps you should take to treat it.
What Is Rheumatic Fever?
What is rheumatic fever? Rheumatic fever is a complication of untreated scarlet fever or strep throat. It’s an inflammatory disease that is most often seen in young children and adolescents, but at the same time, it is not uncommon for adults to contract the condition.
Rheumatic fever is less common in the developed countries of the West, but it can still be found regularly in parts of Africa and south-central Asia and even New Zealand and Australia. If left untreated, rheumatic fever can do serious damage to your health, especially to your heart.
What Causes Rheumatic Fever?
What causes rheumatic fever? Rheumatic fever is the result of untreated or poorly treated group A streptococcus bacteria. This is the bacterium that causes strep throat and scarlet fever, but in the case of rheumatic fever, it originates from the throat as opposed to the skin or other parts of the body.
Rheumatic fever is essentially the immune system’s response to the foreign invader. However, instead of simply attacking the bacteria behind the infection, the antibodies also target the body’s own tissue. This can lead to widespread inflammation, especially in the joints, heart, and nervous system.
As far as scientific research goes, no one is currently sure how the streptococcus bacteria causes rheumatic fever. We just know that certain strains of group A streptococcus bacteria are more likely to cause rheumatic fever than others. Poor environmental conditions like poor sanitation and overcrowding can also contribute to rheumatic fever because those conditions can help spread the bacteria, which in turn, helps spread rheumatic fever.
Rheumatic Fever Symptoms
Rheumatic fever essentially holds two sets of symptoms. The strep throat (and streptococcus bacteria) symptoms are the first to appear. Those symptoms can include:
• Sore throat
• Difficulty swallowing
• Sore and swollen lymph nodes
• Red rash
• Mucus that is thick and possibly contains blood
• Red and swollen tonsils
• Tonsils with white patches or pus
• Small, red spots on the roof of their mouth
• A high fever
If you or your child has these symptoms, a strep test should be conducted by a doctor because you may either have strep throat or already be at the start of rheumatic fever. The symptoms we listed above are just the beginning of the symptoms as the fever itself comes with additional signs like:
• Small nodules, or bumps, that are painless and found under the skin
• Flat, ragged rash that is slightly raised
• Sore and painful joints including the wrists, elbows, knees, and ankles
• Joints that are red and swollen and warm to the touch
• Pain in one joint that can move to another
• Chest pain
• Rapid fluttering in the heart or pounding chest palpitations
• Stomach pain
• Shortness of breath
• Uncontrollable, jerky movements of the hands, feet, and face
• Decreased attention span
• Inappropriate emotional outbursts like crying or inappropriate laughter
The rheumatic fever should be treated as soon as possible, as the symptoms and the fever can lead to serious damage in your body. The heart issues that occur as part of the symptoms of rheumatic fever can go away when the fever is treated, but may still come back to haunt you. Rheumatic heart disease can occur 10 to 20 years after damage caused by rheumatic fever. The heart damage usually ends up affecting the two left valves of your heart, which can lead to:
• Valve stenosis: This is the narrowing of the valve, which results in decreased blood flow.
• Valve regurgitation: This occurs when a leak in the valve allows the blood to flow in the wrong direction with in the heart.
• Damage to heart muscle: This is damage that affects the heart pumping.
Rheumatic Fever Treatment
Rheumatic fever, once diagnosed, should be treated as soon as possible. Luckily, rheumatic fever treatment is pretty easy to maintain but you may be maintaining it for a period of time.
Antibiotics will be used to help clean out the bacteria causing the rheumatic fever. Unfortunately, due to the possible severity of the fever and bacteria, after the initial course is done, an additional course of antibiotics may be prescribed to help prevent its reoccurrence. This course of antibiotics can last for a few years. In the case of children, it could last from the initial date of the rheumatic fever until the age of 21.
2. Anti-Inflammatory Medication
As rheumatic fever often comes with pain and inflammation of the joints, an anti-inflammatory medication is often prescribed in order to reduce the swelling as well as to help reduce the fever itself.
3. Anticonvulsant Medications
In cases of rheumatic fever where there is uncontrollable movement of the limbs and/or face, the doctor may prescribe anticonvulsant medication to try and control the spasms.
4. Long-Term Care
As we previously noted, the possible heart damage that rheumatic fever can cause may not appear until years after the initial fever. To this end, rheumatic fever should be mentioned as part of a patient’s medical history for a number of years after the initial fever.
Rheumatic Fever: Don’t Wait Too Long for Treatment
Rheumatic fever is not common in the United States, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep an eye out for it. Strep throat and the group A streptococcus bacteria is still fairly common throughout the western world. Left untreated, strep throat can become rheumatic fever.
And rheumatic fever can lead to a number of health issues, including conditions related to your heart that can be very hard to come back from. If you start to see signs of strep throat or rheumatic fever for yourself or your child, make sure to go see a doctor and get a full diagnosis and from there, treatment before major damage can begin.
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“Rheumatic Fever,” NHS Choices, http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Rheumatic-fever/Pages/Introduction.aspx, last accessed August 3, 2017.