Use the form below to search the Health Library.

 Health Information  Health Articles  Any

Rheumatic Fever

  • Definition

    Rheumatic fever is an inflammatory condition. It involves the connective tissue in the body. The most severe complication is rheumatic heart disease. This condition may permanently damage the heart valves. Valves control the flow of blood to and from the heart.
    Diseased Heart Valve
    Diseased Aortic Valve
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
  • Causes

    Rheumatic fever is caused by group A Streptococcus pharyngitis, also known as strep throat. In this case, the body uses antibodies to fight the infection, but the antibodies also attack the heart.
  • Risk Factors

    Rheumatic fever is more common in children and adolescents aged 5-15 years. Other factors that may increase your chance of rheumatic fever include:
    • Having strep throat
    • Prior case of rheumatic fever
  • Symptoms

    Symptoms usually appear 2 to 4 weeks after a strep infection. They may include:
    • Pain and swelling in large joints
    • Fever
    • Weakness
    • Muscle aches
    • Shortness of breath
    • Chest pain
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Hacking cough
    • Circular rash
    • Lumps under the skin
    • Abnormal, sudden movements of arms and legs
  • Diagnosis

    The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. This will include a careful exam of your heart.
    Other tests may include:
    • Samples may be taken of your bodily fluids and tissues. This can be done with:
      • Blood tests
      • Throat culture
    • You may need to have pictures taken of your heart. This can be done with:
    • You may need to have your heart activity measured. This can be done with an electrocardiogram (EKG) .
  • Treatment

    The goals of treatment are to:
    • Kill the strep bacteria
    • Treat the inflammation caused by the rheumatic fever
    • Treat any cardiac problems
    • Prevent future cases of rheumatic fever
    Antiobiotics are used to treat the strep infection. They may be given by mouth or injection.
    To help with joint pain and swelling:
    • Aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)—only if advised by your doctor
    • Corticosteroids may be used if NSAIDs are not effective or if there is inflammation of the heart
    In some cases, the inflammation can be severe. You may have to rest for a period of time.
  • Prevention

    It is important to treat strep throat with antibiotics right away. This will help prevent rheumatic fever. If you or your child has a sore throat and a fever that lasts more than 24 hours, contact your doctor.

    American Heart Association

    National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute


    Health Canada

    Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada


    Acute rheumatic fever. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Updated January 7, 2014. Accessed September 26, 2014.

    Nausieda PA, Grossman BJ, Koller WC, Weiner WJ, Klawans HL. Sydenham chorea: An update. Neurology. 1980;30(3):331-334.

    Rheumatic fever. Texas Heart Institute website. Available at: Updated August 2014. Accessed September 26, 2014.

    Robertson KA, Volmink JA, Mayosi BM, et al. Antibiotics for the primary prevention of acute rheumatic fever. BMC Cardiovasc Disorders. 2005;5(1):11.

    Spagnuolo M, Pasternack B, et al. Risk of rheumatic fever recurrences after streptococcal infections: Prospective study of clinical and social factors. N Engl J Med. 1971;285(12):641-647.

    Revision Information

    • Reviewer: David Horn, MD
    • Review Date: 08/2015
    • Update Date: 09/30/2013
  • Connect with Steward

    Visit Our Twitter Feed Visit Our Facebook Page Email This Page Print This Page

    Subscribe to our patient e-newsletter

    Copyright © 2016 Steward Health Care
    Connect Healthcare Panacea CMS Solutions