Symptoms of rheumatic fever include arthritic pain around the joints, fever, fatigue, uncontrollable jerky movements, skin rashes, chest pains, difficulty breathing, and a faster than usual heart rate.

Rheumatic fever is a type of inflammatory reaction. A person can develop rheumatic fever due to complications from a Streptococcus infection.

Health professionals call these infections Group A streptococcal infections, or simply “strep” infections for short.

Common group A streptococcal infections include strep throat, tonsillitis, impetigo, and scarlet fever. Rheumatic fever occurs when a person does not receive treatment for a strep A infection or treatment is ineffective.

This article explores rheumatic fever symptoms, treatments, and risk factors and answers some frequently asked questions.

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The signs of rheumatic fever typically begin to appear around 1–5 weeks after a person has had a streptococcal throat infection and may include:

  • a higher than usual temperature or fever
  • tiredness or fatigue
  • pain and swelling or redness or discoloration of the joints such as wrists, elbows, knees, or ankles
  • chest pains
  • breathlessness
  • faster than usual heart rate
  • involuntary twitchy or jerky movements of the hands, feet, or face
  • tiny bumps under the skin
  • discolored patches on the arms or abdomen

Additionally, a person with rheumatic fever may sometimes experience:

  • a heart murmur that was not present before
  • an enlarged heart
  • fluid around the heart
  • nodules, which are painless lumps, close to the joints
  • a rash with pink rings and a clear center, though this can be hard to detect in dark skin

Initial treatment for acute rheumatic fever focuses on managing inflammation and fever symptoms and may include:

  • taking salicylates and anti-inflammatory medicines to relieve inflammation and decrease fever
  • taking pain medication to relieve discomfort and pain due to inflammation
  • managing symptoms of congestive heart failure, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, and rapid heartbeat
  • taking antibiotics such as penicillin, sulfadiazine, or erythromycin

Properly treating group A strep infections is the best way to avoid developing rheumatic fever.

Rheumatic fever is an inflammatory condition affecting the entire rheumatic system, including a person’s heart, joints, skin, and central nervous system.

Rheumatic fever typically occurs due to a strep throat or scarlet fever infection for which treatment was ineffective.

Group A strep bacteria can cause an array of infections, including:

Doctors do not fully understand the link between group A strep bacteria and rheumatic fever. Strep bacteria appear to fool the immune system into attacking specific tissues, causing rheumatic fever.

Inflammation resulting from rheumatic fever may potentially lead to long-term complications such as rheumatic heart disease.

Below are answers to common questions about rheumatic fever.

How long does a rheumatic fever last?

Most people with rheumatic fever typically make a full recovery within 3 months. However, for some, it may take longer.

Can rheumatic fever be left untreated?

No, a person should always seek treatment from a doctor as soon as possible for rheumatic fever. Without treatment, complications from rheumatic fever can be potentially life threatening.

Do antibiotics prevent rheumatic fever?

Yes, proper treatment of strep infections can prevent rheumatic fever from developing. Anyone who thinks they may have a group A strep infection needs to speak with a doctor.

Rheumatic fever is an inflammatory response to a Streptococcus infection.

Symptoms of rheumatic fever include pain and swelling in the joints, fatigue, uncontrollable jerky movements, fever, a rash on the skin, difficulty breathing, chest pains, and rapid heart rate.

Rheumatic fever can have potentially life threatening complications. Anyone who thinks they have rheumatic fever needs to seek immediate medication attention.