Rheumatic Fever: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment

Rheumatic fever is a serious inflammatory disease that can develop after a strep throat infection. It can cause damage to the heart, joints, skin, brain, etc.

Rheumatic fever most often affects children and young adults and can cause permanent damage to the heart, joints, skin, brain, or other organs. In this blog post, we will discuss the causes, symptoms, and treatment of rheumatic fever.

What is rheumatic fever?

Rheumatic fever is an inflammatory disease that can occur after a strep throat infection. It most often affects children and young adults. The inflammation caused by rheumatic fever can damage the heart, joints, skin, brain, or other organs.

What causes rheumatic fever?

Rheumatic fever is caused by an immune system reaction to a strep throat infection. The strep bacteria release toxins that damage the heart, joints, skin, brain, or other organs.

Rheumatic fever can be caused by Streptococcus infections, particularly scarlet fever and impetigo, if they are not treated correctly or after strep skin infections. Group A Streptococcus bacteria (group A strep) cause these illnesses. It generally develops after 1 to 5 weeks following the infection.

Risk factors for developing rheumatic fever include:

  • Being of Native American, Hispanic, or Pacific Islander descent
  • Living in a crowded or unsanitary environment
  • Having a family history of rheumatic fever
  • Having had rheumatic fever in the past

What are the symptoms of rheumatic fever?

The symptoms of rheumatic fever include:

  • Fever
  • Joint pain and swelling
  • Skin rash
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain or discomfort with breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Headache

How is rheumatic fever diagnosed?

Rheumatic fever is diagnosed with a physical exam, medical history, and laboratory tests. A physical exam may reveal a rash, joint pain, or heart murmur. A medical history will be taken to look for risk factors, such as a strep infection or a family history of rheumatic fever.

Laboratory tests, such as a strep test or blood test, may be ordered to look for antibodies that indicate a past strep infection. A throat swab is taken to look for a group A strep infection.

How is rheumatic fever treated?

Rheumatic fever is treated with antibiotics and symptom relief. Antibiotics are given to kill the strep bacteria and prevent further damage. Symptom relief may include pain relievers, anti-inflammatory drugs, and rest. Surgery may be needed in severe cases to repair damage to the heart or other organs.


Rheumatic fever can lead to complications, such as:

  • Heart problems, such as rheumatic heart disease, which can cause heart failure
  • Brain damage: Rheumatic fever can cause inflammation of the brain (encephalitis) or damage to the nervous system (neurosyphilis).
  • Kidney damage: It can cause inflammation of the kidneys (nephritis).
  • Skin problems: It can cause a skin condition called subcutaneous nodules.
  • Lung damage
  • Joint problems, such as arthritis


The best way to prevent rheumatic fever is to treat strep throat and skin infections immediately. If you or your child has strep throat or skin infection, see a doctor right away and finish the antibiotics as prescribed.

You can also help prevent rheumatic fever by:

  • Washing your hands often
  • Avoiding close contact with people who are sick
  • Covering your nose and mouth when you sneeze or cough
  • Avoiding sharing cups, dishes, or eating utensils with others
  • Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces that may be contaminated with bacteria

If you have rheumatic fever, you can help prevent it from coming back by taking antibiotics and following your doctor’s instructions. You should also see your doctor regularly for checkups.

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