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What is the Difference Between Rheumatic Fever and Rheumatic Heart Disease?

Affinity Health is a leading provider of high-quality health cover. Here are their views on rheumatic fever versus rheumatic heart disease.

What is the Difference Between Rheumatic Fever and Rheumatic Heart Disease?

Rheumatic fever is an inflammatory condition induced by Group A strep throat. It causes painful symptoms in the connective tissue of your body. The condition is rare, but cases of rheumatic fever still occur in South Africa. It affects children more than adults.


Worldwide, the disease claims over 300 000 lives every year. More than 33 million people, mostly in developing countries and impoverished communities. Rheumatic fever can cause long-term damage to the heart and its valves. That is referred to as rheumatic heart disease.

What Causes Rheumatic Fever?

Rheumatic fever develops as a result of a rare strain of strep throat. It is not treated right away with antibiotics. Doctors are unsure why this uncommon type of strep causes this inflammatory illness.


It is most likely that antibodies attack these cells:

  • Heart muscle
  • Valve cells
  • Joint
  • Brain
  • Skin tissue
  • Inflammation


“Medical research says strep throat and rheumatic fever are common in children,” says Murray Hewlett, Affinity Health CEO.


“Before 1960, rheumatic fever was a primary cause of disability and death among children in developing countries. Because most individuals have access to penicillin and other antibiotics, rheumatic fever is no longer common.


But it is a primary cause of premature death in less developed nations. Rheumatic fever is also hereditary. Members of some families are far more likely to have it, and experts are now investigating why.”

Rheumatic Fever Signs and Symptoms

Possible symptoms of rheumatic fever include:

  • Fever (high temperature of over 38 °C)
  • Redness, pain and swelling of your joints, usually ankles, knees, wrists or elbows
  • Chest pain
  • Breathlessness
  • Increased heart rate
  • Fatigue
  • Jerky, uncontrollable movements in your hands and feet
  • A rash, which presents as tiny bumps under your skin
  • Pale-red patches on your arms and abdomen
  • Outbursts of unusual behaviour, such as crying or inappropriate laughing

Rheumatic Fever Testing and Diagnosis

There is no single test to diagnose rheumatic fever. Often, doctors use the Jones criteria to assess the possibilities of infection.


Your doctor may also get a throat culture or perform a blood test. These tests aid diagnosis.


Your doctor may also order an electrocardiogram (ECG) or echocardiography (cardiac echo). An ECG detects aberrant electrical conductivity through the heart. An echo detects leaking heart valves, fluid in the sac around the heart, or poor heart muscle function.

How is Rheumatic Fever Treated?

Treatment for rheumatic fever includes penicillin, aspirin, and other medications. To prevent recurrence, doctors prescribe a low dose of penicillin for several years. It is critical to avoid a recurrence due to the potential for further heart damage.

The Prognosis for Rheumatic Fever

The most significant complication of rheumatic fever is carditis. That is the inflammation of the heart muscle and tissue. Some children do not develop carditis, while others get moderate carditis that may or may not cause future difficulties.


Children who develop severe carditis, the inflammation causes scarring and permanent cardiac damage. The mitral valve, which governs blood flow between the upper and lower left chambers of the heart, is most commonly injured. The second most usually damaged heart valve is the aortic valve, which delivers blood from the left lower chamber to the body.


Scarring might lead to mitral valve obstruction later in life. If one valve begins to leak significantly, surgery to repair or replace it may be required. Typically, this is not required before adulthood, but in severe situations, surgery during childhood is required.

Rheumatic Fever Follow-Up Care

Children and adolescents with severe rheumatic heart disease will need to see a cardiologist frequently for the rest of their lives. The doctor will check heart function for any abnormalities.


“Currently, a remarkable proportion of patients suffering from rheumatic heart disease are either undiagnosed or are discovered much later.


So all South Africans must learn more about the signs and symptoms of rheumatic heart disease and contact their doctor or healthcare provider without hesitation, should they believe their symptoms could be related to this condition,” concludes Hewlett.


Learn More: Rheumatic Fever and Rheumatic Heart Disease Awareness

About Affinity Health

Affinity Health is the leading provider of affordable medical insurance in South Africa. Members enjoy access to a network of healthcare providers. We have designed healthcare products to protect you and your family when it matters the most. We strive to give our clients peace of mind and the highest standard of service. For more information, follow us on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

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