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Rheumatic fever (RF)
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Rheumatic fever

Diseases & Conditions A-Z

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INFECTIOUS DISEASE

Bacterial

Rheumatic fever is a delayed consequence of an untreated upper respiratory infection with group A streptococci (streptococcal pharyngitis or strep throat). Rheumatic fever can affect many parts of your body - heart, joints, nervous system and skin. Although rheumatic fever can occur at any age, it most frequently occurs in people between the ages of 6 and 15 years. The disease is twice as common in women as it is in men.

Symptoms of rheumatic fever generally appear within 5 weeks after an untreated streptococcal (strep) throat infection. Most cases of strep throat don't lead to rheumatic fever. In fact, even in untreated cases, only about 3 percent of people with strep throat develop rheumatic fever.

Screening and diagnosis

If you or your child has symptoms of rheumatic fever, diagnosis will likely involve a physical examination and questions by your doctor regarding your signs and symptoms. The physical exam may include your doctor checking your joints for pain and inflammation, examining your skin for rashes or lumps, and listening to your heart for abnormal rhythms or murmurs.

Your doctor may recommend an electrocardiogram (ECG) of your heart to check for abnormal rhythms. Electrocardiography involves attaching electrode patches to your skin to measure electrical impulses given off by your heart. The electrical impulses, which cause your heart muscle to contract, are recorded by an electrocardiograph machine. They typically are recorded in the form of waves, which are displayed on graph paper or on a monitor.

No laboratory test can confirm that you have rheumatic fever. Doctors base a diagnosis of rheumatic fever on the presence of several major and minor criteria. The most common major criteria are pain and swelling of joints that migrate from joint to joint, and inflammation of the heart.

Diagnosing rheumatic fever requires not only the presence of key symptoms but also evidence of a recent strep infection. Your doctor may take a blood sample to test for the presence of antibodies to streptococcal bacteria. However, it's possible that by the time you see your doctor, your throat culture test for strep will be negative. In that case, the only suggestion of strep may be you telling your doctor about a recent sore throat accompanied by fever.

Rheumatic fever > 1 > 2 > 3 > 4

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This information is provided for general medical education purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician relative to diagnostic and treatment options of a specific patient's medical condition.
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Last Modified : 03/15/08 02:05 AM