Rheumatic fever

Alternative Names

Acute rheumatic fever

Definition of Rheumatic fever

Rheumatic fever is an inflammatory disease that may develop after an infection with bacteria (such as or ). The disease can affect the heart, joints, skin, and brain.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Rheumatic fever is common worldwide and is responsible for many cases of damaged heart valves. It is not common in the United States, and usually occurs in isolated outbreaks. The latest outbreak was in the 1980s.

Signs and tests

Because this disease has different forms, no one test can firmly diagnose it. Your doctor will perform a careful exam, which includes checking your heart sounds, skin, and joints.


If you are diagnosed with acute rheumatic fever you will be treated with antibiotics.

Expectations (prognosis)

Rheumatic fever is likely to come back in people who don’t take low-dose antibiotics continually, especially during the first 3 -5 years after the first episode of the disease. Heart complications may be severe, particularly if the heart valves are involved.


Linda Vorvick, MD, Seattle Site Coordinator, Lecturer, Pahtophysiology, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc. – 5/9/2010

ADAM Medical Encyclopedia

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