Rheumatic fever is a medical complication or a new disease that arises from a past disease. This condition is very rare and occurs as a complication of a bacterial throat infection.
Rheumatic fever can cause a person to experience painful joint problems and heart problems. Some patients with rheumatic fever may have a complete recovery, but it is still possible that the condition will recur.
Rheumatic fever will cause swelling of the knees, ankles, wrists and elbows. The pain in the swollen areas usually does not stay in one area, but moves from one joint to another.
In its most severe form, rheumatic fever can cause extreme heart damage. It damages the heart valves, triggers the heart to work harder to pump blood, and can potentially trigger heart failure if it occurs continuously over a long period of time.
Rheumatic fever is categorized as a life-threatening condition.
Causes of Rheumatic Fever
Given that it is a medical complication, rheumatic fever will only occur after a throat infection caused by bacteria. It is unclear as to the connection between this infection and rheumatic fever. However, the bacteria-caused infection may manipulate the immune system and cause rheumatic fever.
The bacteria that cause throat infections contain proteins which are similar to proteins in certain body tissues. The immune system, which is supposed to fight against infection, turns to attack itself, especially in the heart and joint tissues. As a result, the tissues and joints will experience inflammation and swelling.
Rheumatic fever is more likely to occur if a person has strep throat and ongoing dengue fever, yet has been improperly treated. Patients with bacterial throat infections should undergo early treatment to prevent rheumatic fever.
However, not all people with bacterial throat infections will experience rheumatic fever.
When to See a Doctor for Rheumatic Fever?
Patients suffering from rheumatic fever symptoms will be advised to consult with a rheumatology specialist. Rheumatologists specialise in treating problems in the joints, smooth tissue, and muscles.
To detect the presence of bacteria that causes throat infection, the doctor will conduct a throat culture test. This procedure is done by taking a sample of mucus in the throat for testing in the laboratory.
Laboratory test results will take approximately 24 hours. Your doctor may also perform an inflammation rapid test, which is a more prompt but less accurate test procedure compared to a throat culture test.
The doctor may also perform a comprehensive physical examination by listening to your heartbeat to detect if there is damage to the heart valve.
If the doctor feels that the patient still needs further tests, the patient may be asked to undergo tests consisting of:
- Blood tests. This test is usually performed on children with rheumatic fever. This test will help the doctor to measure inflammation in the blood.
- An electrocardiogram (EKG). A test that measures the waves or electrical signals traveling through the heart. Abnormal electrical activity in the heart will help the doctor find areas of the enlarged heart
- Echocardiogram. A test with sound waves to ascertain the overall condition of the heart.
Symptoms of Rheumatic Fever
Symptoms of rheumatic fever usually appear within two to four weeks after a person has a bacterial throat infection. The symptoms include:
- Small bumps under the skin.
- Pale red patches on the arms and stomach.
- Pain, swelling, and redness in the joints.
- High fever with a temperature above 38 degrees Celsius.
- Pain in the chest, shortness of breath, faster heartbeat.
- Jerky, uncontrollable body movements, most often in the hands, feet and face
Joint pain and swelling are most common to occur in the ankles, knees, wrists and elbows.
In some cases, people may not realize they have rheumatic fever because there are no specific symptoms that arise, especially symptoms of a throat infection. In cases like this, new symptoms may appear when the condition gets worse:
- Sudden joint pain suddenly after recovering from sore throat
- Sore throat without other cold symptoms and swollen glands in the throat.
Treatment for Rheumatic Fever
The main goal of rheumatic fever treatment is to completely destroy the bacteria causing the throat infection to prevent further damage to the immune system. Treatment includes:
- Anticonvulsant medication for patients who experience symptoms of joint spasms and other involuntary movements.
- Anti-inflammatory treatment with pain relievers. This type of drug will help reduce fever, treat inflammation in the joints, and reduce pain.
- Antibiotics, bacteria-fighting drugs to eliminate any remaining bacteria in the body after treating a throat infection. The course of antibiotics must be finished even after you feel better
In severe cases, the doctor may give the patient a corticosteroid drug.
A person who has dealt with rheumatic fever is more likely to develop the same condition a second time. For this reason, the doctor will ensure that the main treatment is focused on healing the throat infection to prevent it from recurring.
The patient may be required to take antibiotics for several years to ensure the bacteria will not return. Usually, this condition rarely appears after five years.
However, long-term consumption of antibiotics can permanently endanger the heart condition. Therefore, patients are still asked to undergo regular examinations.
Treatment Cost for Rheumatic Fever
The cost for rheumatic fever treatment varies, depending on the severity and the treatment method chosen.
For more information regarding the estimated costs of rheumatic fever treatment, contact Smarter Health.
Prevention of Rheumatic Fever
The main preventive measure of rheumatic fever is through paying attention to the condition of your throat and not underestimating if you feel any pain in the throat. When someone, especially a child, has a sore throat without any other flu symptoms for two to three days, call the doctor immediately.
Early examination can help detect throat infections more quickly and prevent complications of rheumatic fever.
Home Remedies for Patients Diagnosed with Rheumatic Fever
Rheumatic fever patients need to undergo home care to speed up recovery. This condition is not severe – the treatment required is only through medications.
For patients, it is recommended to routinely take medication prescribed by the doctor. Patients who have been taking antibiotics for years should also undergo regular check-ups to ensure that there is no permanent impact on the heart.