Rheumatic Fever and Rheumatic Heart Disease

Also known as: Acute rheumatic fever, ARF, RHD

What are ​Rheumatic Fever and Rheumatic Heart Disease?

Rheumatic fever is a disease caused by the body's inflammatory response to a bacterial infection caused by a group A streptococcus bacterial infection of the throat. This is usually known for causing “ strep throat”. When the infection is not treated fast enough with antibiotics, the body’s own infection fighting proteins ( antibodies ) can attack other parts of the body, like heart, joints, skin and brain. In about half the cases damage to the heart occurs. This is called rheumatic heart disease.

What causes rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease?

An infection with a group A streptococcus bacteria (  Streptococcus pyogenes ) causes rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease. Children between the ages of 5- 15 yrs particularly if the get frequent strep throat infections,  genetics ( some families carry a gene that might make them more susceptible )  poverty & malnutrition increase the risk of getting the disease.

What are the symptoms of rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease?

Rheumatic fever usually occurs two to four weeks after a strep throat infection and frequently  causes fever,  pain, redness and swelling of one or more joints, hard lumps on the skin known as nodules, a flat or slightly raised rash, sometimes uncontrollable body movements and outbursts of unusual behavior. When the disease affects the heart, a heart murmur ( from heart valve damage ), shortness of breath and a rapid heartbeat can occur.

What are rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease care options?

Antibiotics can treat and prevent rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease. If heart disease does develop , children will need experts to detect and treat the child, who may require medications and possibly surgery for heart valve disease. Nichlaus Children's hospital has one of the most experienced pediatric heart team’s in the United States.

Reviewed by: Jack Wolfsdorf, MD, FAAP

This page was last updated on: January 12, 2022 04:36 PM