Rheumatic Fever - Symptoms

Authored by Dr Oliver Starr, 06 Jul 2017

Patient is a certified member of
The Information Standard

Reviewed by:
Dr Laurence Knott, 06 Jul 2017

Which parts of the body are affected by rheumatic fever?

Rheumatic fever can affect the joints (like your knees, elbows and wrists), the heart, the nervous system (your brain) and sometimes the skin.

How does rheumatic fever affect the joints?

  • Some joints become hot and red and are sore to move.
  • The knees, wrists, elbows and ankles are affected.
  • The pain and redness may come and go: some joints will get better then others will get worse.
  • Usually only two joints are affected at the same time.
  • Each joint is usually affected for a few hours to a few days, before improving.

What problems does rheumatic fever cause in the heart?

  • It causes something called 'carditis': just medical talk for an inflamed heart.
  • It can inflame the covering of the heart and cause something called 'pericarditis'.
  • Or the heart muscle itself, causing myocarditis.
  • Or the little valves inside the heart, causing endocarditis.
  • This can give you pains in the chest, breathlessness and a fast heart rate.

How does rheumatic fever affect the nervous system?

  • In about a quarter of people with rheumatic fever they develop strange, jerky movements called 'chorea'.
  • They usually last a few weeks and then fade away, but in a few cases can go on for months.
  • The movements usually settle down when the person sleeps.

What changes can be seen in the skin with rheumatic fever?

  • Skin problems only affect about 10% of people with rheumatic fever.
  • They can be tiny bumps under the skin (called subcutaneous nodules).
  • Some people get pale red patches on their arms and tummy (called erythema marginatum).
  • These skin problems are not serious and they fade away once the rheumatic fever goes away.

Further reading and references

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