Your Child, Rheumatic Fever, And Heart Disease

Posted on: 11 April 2017

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When most people think of heart problems, they tend to think of older adults as the primary sufferers. Unfortunately, many children have heart issues as well. These can stem from congenital defects or diseases they are born with, or as a result of diseases they acquire later in life. One of these diseases is rheumatic fever. Here is what you need to know.

What Is Rheumatic Fever?

Rheumatic fever occurs as an inflammation resulting from a streptococcal infection, usually strep throat. While strep throat is a common childhood illness, most do not then also get rheumatic fever as a complication. Rheumatic fever will present anywhere from two to four weeks after a bout of strep throat. Strep throat is contagious, but rheumatic fever is not.

What Are The Most Common Symptoms Of Strep Throat?

The sudden onset of a sore throat, fever, general malaise, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain, headache, and pain when swallowing are the primary symptoms. You cannot tell simply by looking at the throat if your child has strep throat; they must see their pediatrician for a strep test. A strep test involves swabbing the throat and sending the sample to a lab to be cultured.

What Are The Most Common Symptoms Of Rheumatic Fever?

Most of the time, the child is all better from the strep throat when rheumatic fever starts. A sudden onset of fever, painful and swollen joints that appear red or hot to the touch, skin rashes on the trunk, shortness of breath, and bumps under the skin immediately following a bout of strep throat are indicative of rheumatic fever.  It can affect the heart, leaving the heat valves inflamed and scarred. The heart symptoms may eventually go away, or they may last throughout life, a condition known as rheumatic heart disease.

How Long Does Rheumatic Fever Last?

The disease itself lasts anywhere from a few weeks to a few months. Unfortunately, there is no cure; it just needs to run its course. A pediatric cardiologist must be consulted to assess any potential heart damage.

Can A Child Get Rheumatic Fever More Than Once?

Yes. In fact, a child who has previously had rheumatic fever is more likely to get it again. Most pediatricians will put the child on an extended course of antibiotics, usually penicillin. This therapy may last for years to prevent another occurrence of strep throat and to protect the heart.

What Is The Primary Complication Of Rheumatic Heart Disease?

The damaged heart valves are prone to infective endocarditis. This is an inflammation of the inner tissues of the heart, usually the heart valves. It is almost always caused by bacteria. Surgery or valve replacement may be needed to repair the damage.