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Rheumatic fever

What is rheumatic fever?

Rheumatic fever is a rare but serious complication that can develop if a group A streptococcus throat infection is not treated.

There is no cure for rheumatic fever, but treatments are available to help relieve the symptoms.

What are the symptoms of rheumatic fever?

How common is rheumatic fever?

Before the widespread introduction of antibiotics, rheumatic fever was one of the main causes of acquired heart disease in England.

Now, thanks to antibiotics and better public sanitation and living standards, the condition is rare. It is estimated that less than one in every 100,000 people is affected by rheumatic fever in England each year.

The majority of cases of rheumatic fever affect children aged 5-15. Adults make up 20% of cases.

The condition affects both sexes equally, though girls and women tend to have more severe symptoms.

What causes rheumatic fever?

Rheumatic fever results from an inflammatory reaction to certain group A streptococcus bacteria. The body produces antibodies to fight the bacteria, but instead the antibodies attack a different target: the body's own tissues, so it is a type of autoimmune disorder. The antibodies begin with the joints and often move on to the heart and surrounding tissues. Because only a small fraction (generally fewer than 0.3%) of people with strep throat ever develop rheumatic fever, medical experts say that other factors, such as a weakened immune system, must also be involved in the development of the disease.

Monitor that sore throat

Pay attention to sore throats, especially in children. If your child has a severe sore throat without other cold symptoms, accompanied by a temperature above 39C (102 F) or a milder sore throat that persists for more than two or three days, seek medical advice. It may be strep throat, which should be treated with antibiotics.

Seek medical advice about rheumatic fever if:

You are experiencing the symptoms listed in the symptoms section, particularly if you remember having recently had a sore throat. You may have rheumatic fever and should receive medical attention.

You have a sore throat without other cold symptoms accompanied by a temperature higher than 39C (102 F) and swollen glands in your neck. You may have strep throat and should receive medical attention.

You experience sudden and unexplained joint pain or other symptoms after recovering from a sore throat.

Diagnosing rheumatic fever?

A checklist known as the 'Jones Criteria' is used to help in the diagnosis process.

The Jones Criteria checks whether you have certain signs and symptoms strongly associated with rheumatic fever. These signs and symptoms are collectively known as criteria.

There are two types of criteria:

  • Major criteria: signs and symptoms strongly associated with rheumatic fever
  • Minor criteria: signs and symptoms moderately associated with rheumatic fever.

WebMD Medical Reference

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