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Inflammatory Musculoskeletal Disorders: Rheumatic Heart Disease & Rheumatic Fever


Rheumatic fever is an inflammatory disease (like juvenile rheumatoid arthritis ) that can affect many connective tissues of the body - especially those of the heart, joints, brain or skin. Permanent heart damage from rheumatic fever is called rheumatic heart disease .
Rheumatic fever begins with a strep throat from streptococcal infection. If it's not treated, the streptococcal infection can develop into acute rheumatic fever.
Anyone can get acute rheumatic fever, but it usually occurs in children five to 15 years old. The resulting rheumatic heart disease can last for life.

Symptoms and Signs

The symptoms of rheumatic heart disease vary greatly from person to person. Often the damage to heart valves isn't immediately noticeable. A damaged heart valve either doesn't completely close or doesn't completely open.

Eventually, damaged heart valves can cause serious, even disabling, problems. These problems depend on how severe the damage is and on which heart valve is affected. The most advanced condition is congestive heart failure.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Blood tests may detect a high white blood cell count and a high erythrocyte sedimentation rate. Most children with rheumatic fever have antibodies to streptococci, which can be measured in a blood test.

The best defense against rheumatic heart disease is to prevent rheumatic fever from ever occurring. By treating strep throat with penicillin or other antibiotics, doctors can usually stop acute rheumatic fever from developing.
People who've already had an attack of rheumatic fever are more prone to further attacks and the risk of heart damage. That's why they're given continuous monthly or daily antibiotic treatment, perhaps for life. If their heart has been damaged by a prior bout of rheumatic fever, they're also given a different antibiotic when they undergo dental or surgical procedures that increase the risk of bacterial endocarditis.

The information in this page is presented in summarised form and has been taken from the following source(s):
1. The American Heart Association:

Other HON resources 
   From MedHunt

Rheumatic Fever
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University of Utah

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Contact Last modified: Oct 20 2004