Complications of Rheumatic Fever: Learn How to Recognize The Complications and Know When to Seek Medical Treatment

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What is Rheumatic Fever?

Rheumatic fever occurs when the antibodies produced by the body to fight certain types of Group A Streptococcus bacteria go wrong. The antibodies attack the tissues of the body instead of the bacteria. This inflammatory reaction results in rheumatic fever. This inflammatory reaction can also lead to complications of rheumatic fever that are permanent in nature.

Risk Factors

Though less than 1 percent of people who develop strep throat also develop rheumatic fever, the current theory is that other risk factors must be involved. One such risk factor would be a weakened immune system. The most common victims of rheumatic fever are children aged 6 to 15.

Rheumatic fever cases occur most often during spring and winter when the weather is cool and damp. Additionally, studies have shown that children living in poor area, such as in certain inner-city areas, tend to have more risk than children living elsewhere. Rheumatic fever cases appear far more often in developing countries than in countries such as the United States.

Because of the association between rheumatic fever and strep throat, in children, a sore throat is especially critical to monitor. A physician should evaluate a sore throat that last beyond a few days or is accompanied by a fever.


Some of the symptoms associated with rheumatic fever include:

  • Fever
  • Joint Pain
  • Joint Swelling, Warmth, Redness
  • Skin Rash
  • Skin Nodules
  • Heart Problems
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Chest Pain
  • Nosebleeds
  • Abdominal Pain

In children, rheumatic fever has an incubation period that causes it to appear approximately 20 days after scarlet fever or strep throat develops.

Testing will need to be done to confirm a diagnosis of rheumatic fever.


The complications of rheumatic fever include heart valve damage that can occur during the course of its run. This damage is permanent. The valve damage can result in problems with blood flowing the wrong way due to leakage, a decrease in blood flow, heart muscle weakening that causes faulty pumping action and irregular heart beat.

According to WebMD, over half of all cases of rheumatic fever develop heart valve scars, which forces it to have to work harder for normal function levels.

Rheumatic fever causes inflammation that can last up to several months in patients.


Some of the most commonly used treatments are antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medication. Anti-convulsants are sometimes prescribed, too. Bed rest or restricted activity may also be ordered for the patient. In some patients, rheumatic fever may be recurrent, so careful monitoring and patient care is critical.


Rheumatic Fever. Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic Staff. January 23, 2009.

Rheumatic Fever. Medline Plus. U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health

Understanding Rheumatic Fever – the Basics. WebMD. Reviewed by Leonard J. Sonne, MD. December 6, 2009.