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Rheumatic Fever

Rheumatic Fever Facts

  • Rheumatic fever is a complication of a streptococcal pharyngitis infection (strep throat) that can cause damage to the heart, joints, brain, and skin.
  • The most serious complication of rheumatic fever is rheumatic heart disease (RHD). RHD is the most common cause of heart problems in children worldwide and can lead to damage to the heart valves and chronic heart failure.
  • Rheumatic fever is preventable by treating strep throat with antibiotics, usually penicillin. If a patient is allergic to penicillin, other antibiotics such as erythromycin (Eryc, Ery-Tab, E.E.S, Eryped, PCE) or clindamycin (Cleocin) can be used.
  • The use of antibiotics and improved sanitation has dramatically reduced rheumatic fever in developed countries.

Rheumatic Fever Overview

Rheumatic fever is a complication of strep throat caused by infections with group A streptococcal bacteria. After strep throat, some individuals can develop a second illness one to five weeks later with fever, joint pains, rash, and sometimes brain and heart problems.

Rheumatic Fever Causes

While it is not completely clear, rheumatic fever seems to be caused by a process called "molecular mimicry." During infections with bacteria, the immune system fights the infection by producing antibodies to proteins on the surface of the bacteria. During infection with certain types (or strains) of group A streptococcal bacteria, the proteins on the bacteria appear similar to proteins in the human body. Because of this similarity, the immune system begins to attack human cells with similar proteins, such as heart muscle, joints, skin, and sometimes brain tissue.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 1/15/2015

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