Rheumatic fever is an inflammatory disease that may develop after an infection with group A Streptococcus bacteria (such as strep throat or scarlet fever). The disease can affect the heart, joints, skin, and brain.
Acute rheumatic fever
Rheumatic fever is common in developing countries worldwide. It does not often occur in the United States and other developed countries. When rheumatic fever does occur in the U.S., it is usually in isolated outbreaks. The latest outbreak in the U.S. was in the 1980s.
Rheumatic fever mainly affects children ages 5 -15 who have had strep throat or scarlet fever. If it occurs, it develops about 14 - 28 days after these illnesses.
You'll likely be diagnosed with rheumatic fever if you meet two major criteria, or one major and two minor criteria, and have signs of a past strep infection.
If you are diagnosed with acute rheumatic fever you will be treated with antibiotics.
Anti-inflammatory medications such as aspirin or corticosteroids reduce inflammation to help manage acute rheumatic fever.
You may have to take low doses of antibiotics (such as penicillin, sulfadiazine, or erythromycin) over the long term to prevent strep throat from returning.
If rheumatic fever returns, your health care provider may recommend you take low-dose antibiotics for a long time, especially during the first 3 -5 years after you first get the disease. Heart complications may be severe, especially if the heart valves are involved.
Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.