Rheumatic fever: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention Techniques

Rheumatic fever is a rare autoimmune inflammatory disease that can develop from untreated or inadequately treated scarlet fever or strep throat, both caused by Streptococcus bacteria. This disease is also known as acute rheumatic fever. It happens when an untreated strep throat or scarlet fever infection causes your child’s immune system to overreact.

In the past, rheumatic fever was a leading factor in children’s cardiovascular diseases. Antibiotics have greatly reduced the number of cases in developed nations, but they are still a serious health concern in many other regions of the world. In this article, we’ll explore the causes, signs, available treatments, and methods for preventing rheumatic fever.

What is Rheumatic Fever?

Rheumatic fever, a rare autoimmune inflammatory condition, develops when group A Streptococcus bacterial infections, like strep throat or scarlet fever, are not adequately treated. 

It can induce inflammation in the skin, joints, brain, heart, and other parts of the body; it mainly affects children and adolescents. Symptoms include fever, sore and swollen joints, chest pain, exhaustion, and irregular movements.

Rheumatic heart disease is a medical condition where long-term damage to the heart valves occurs from untreated rheumatic fever. The management of rheumatic fever and the prevention of severe side effects depend significantly on early diagnosis and treatment.

Causes of Rheumatic Fever

The causes of rheumatic fever include:

Streptococcal Infections

Rheumatic fever is primarily caused by an untreated or improperly treated group A Streptococcus bacterial infection. These bacteria are the cause of strep throat, a common infection that, if left untreated, can have serious consequences. 

The body’s immune system may overreact to the presence of the bacteria in strep throat or scarlet fever if treatment is not received, attacking its tissues in an attempt to rid the infection. Everywhere in the body, including the heart, joints, skin, and central nervous system, can become inflamed as a result of this autoimmune reaction.

Genetic Factors

Genetic factors also influence the development of rheumatic fever. As genetics influences how the immune system reacts to the bacteria, some people are more susceptible to disease after a strep infection. If someone in a family has had rheumatic fever, other family members might be at a higher risk. Doctors can monitor and treat people with risk factors more closely after a strep infection if they are aware of these genetic factors.

Environmental Factors

Lifestyle factors greatly influence the risk of rheumatic fever development. In areas where medical care is scarce, crowded and unhygienic environments can facilitate the spread of streptococcal infections and raise the risk of rheumatic fever. 

It can be difficult for people to get timely treatment for strep throat when they live in impoverished conditions because they frequently have less access to healthcare. Furthermore, unfavourable living circumstances, inadequate diet, and contaminated water can all impair immunity, leaving a person more vulnerable to illnesses and complications. 

Reducing the risk of rheumatic fever requires raising hygiene awareness, guaranteeing access to healthcare, and improving living conditions.

Symptoms of Rheumatic Fever

Rheumatic fever usually develops two to four weeks following a strep throat infection. The symptoms include:


Rheumatic fever usually begins with a high temperature, which is the body’s reaction to the infection. This fever is typically one of the first symptoms to show up and can be long-term.

Painful and Swollen Joints

Joints can become very painful, swollen, red, and hot. It is especially true for the knees, ankles, elbows, and wrists. This pain can migrate from one joint to another.

Skin Rash

Rheumatic fever can cause Erythema marginatum, which is a unique, non-itchy rash that typically affects the back and limbs. It resembles pink rings with a clear centre.

Small Nodules

Under the skin, small, painless nodules can show up, particularly over bony regions or close to joints.

Advanced Symptoms

If rheumatic fever is not treated immediately, it can worsen and cause symptoms like:

Chest Pain

Chest pain, an irregular or fast heartbeat, and breathing difficulties, especially during physical exertion, are symptoms of heart inflammation (carditis).


Daily activities may become challenging due to an overall feeling of weakness and exhaustion.

Sydenham chorea

It includes weak muscles, unstable emotions, and quick, jerky movements of the hands, feet, and face. It can make writing difficult, as well as walking and other tasks.

Neurological Symptoms

The neurological symptoms involve feelings of anger, irritability, and crying or laughing inappropriately, along with other behavioural changes.

Treatment Options for Rheumatic Fever

These are some of the treatment options for rheumatic fever, which include a variety of methods to treat symptoms and enhance patient outcomes:


Antibiotics are essential in the treatment of rheumatic fever, as they eliminate any remaining streptococcal bacteria in the body. The most common line of defence against these bacteria is usually penicillin, an antibiotic with extensive usage. Antibiotics help rheumatic fever patients stop its growth and avoid additional challenges by efficiently removing the cause of the infection.

Anti-inflammatory Medications

Anti-inflammatory drugs can be prescribed to treat rheumatic fever symptoms. Aspirin and corticosteroids are two examples of these medications. They function by decreasing inflammation in the body, which lessens the suffering caused by this disease and enhances the patient’s general health and quality of life.

Long-term Care

Antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs are useful in treating the acute symptoms of rheumatic fever. However, long-term care is frequently required to minimise the risk of complications and prevent recurrence. It could involve continuing antibiotic treatment to stop streptococcal infections in the future, as well as routine check-ups to monitor heart health and observe any signs of disease development.

Preventing Rheumatic Fever

Let’s take a look at some preventive techniques for preventing rheumatic fever:

Early Treatment

The primary measure to prevent rheumatic fever is the prompt and thorough treatment of strep throat with antibiotics. It can stop the immune system from overreacting to the infection.

Regular Medical Check-ups

Regular check-ups are useful in the early detection of any complications, guaranteeing prompt intervention and preventing serious complications.

Hygiene Practices

Thorough handwashing and minimising close contact with infected people are two examples of good hygiene practices that can help stop the spread of streptococcal infections.

Diet and Nutrition

An immune system that is improved by a well-balanced diet rich in vegetables, whole grains, and fruits can help prevent infections and promote general health.

Physical Activity

Maintaining cardiovascular health requires regular physical activity, but people with rheumatic fever should speak with their doctor before starting any physical fitness routine.

Stress Management

Stress management practices like mindfulness, meditation, and getting enough sleep can enhance general well-being and speed up recovery.


In conclusion, rheumatic fever is a serious but preventable disease. Its effects on those who are affected can be lessened if we are aware of its causes, symptoms, available treatments, and preventative measures. The management of this condition and the guarantee of a healthy future depend on early detection and appropriate medical care.


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