What Is Rheumatic Fever?

Q:
What is rheumatic fever?

A:
Rheumatic fever is a rare but potentially life-threatening disease.It is a complication of untreated strep throat caused by bacteria called group A streptococcus. The main symptoms – fever, muscle aches, swollen and painful joints, and in some cases, a red, lattice-like rash typically begin two to four weeks after a bout of strep. In some cases, though, the infection may have been too mild to have been recognized.

The greatest danger from the disease is the damage it can do to the heart. In more than half of all cases, rheumatic fever scars the valves of the heart, forcing this vital organ to work harder to pump blood. Over a period of months or even years — particularly if the disease strikes again — this damage to the heart can lead to a serious condition known as rheumatic heart disease, which can eventually cause the heart to fail.

Rheumatic fever can also cause a temporary nervous system disorder once known as St. Vitus’ dance, now known as Sydenham’s chorea. This is a nervous disorder – characterized by rapid, jerky, involuntary movements of the body, usually occurring more on one side of the body. People with mild cases of chorea may find it difficult to concentrate or write.

The disease tends to strike most often in cool, damp weather during the winter and early spring. In the U.S., it is most common in the northern states.

Pay attention to sore throats, especially in children. If your child has a severe sore throat without other cold symptoms, accompanied by a fever higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit, or a milder sore throat that persists for more than two or three days, see a doctor.

Keyword: rheumatic fever

* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.