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Acute Rheumatic Fever is an inflammatory complication or a disorder that is caused by inadequate treatment of a strep throat or scarlet fever. In cases of acute rheumatic condition, the organs of the body start to attack their own tissues, which results in inflammation and severe reaction in the entire body.

A strep throat or scarlet fever is an infection in the throat or tonsils which is caused by bacteria called Astreptococcusor Streptococcus pyogenes. As strep throat or scarlet fever is highly contagious and leads to acute rheumatic fever, if untreated or undertreated. However, this does not imply that all strep throat or scarlet fever conditions cause development of an acute rheumatic fever, but in conditions when it does lead to a rheumatic fever complication – the symptoms start showing within a few weeks.

Acute rheumatic fever is more widely spread in children above 5 years and below the 15 year age mark, though it can also occur in younger children, as well as adults. As of today, acute rheumatic fever is widely common in developing nations, including India. As per an Indian study, the ratio of acute rheumatic fever in Indian school children aged 5-15 years is approximately 6 per 1000.

One of the major complications caused because of acute rheumatic fever is rheumatic heart disease (RHD) – chances of which happening are more than 30%. It is also one of the major causes of cardiovascular diseases, contributing to more than 40% of the acquired heart disease issues. Both acute rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease can permanently affect the heart, damaging its valves overtime, causing disability, heart failure and even premature death in many cases. Globally, rheumatic heart disease is the cause of approximately 5, 00,000 deaths annually. That said, if treated adequately and timely, the damage can be reduced and the recurrence can be curbed.

More important is to know what causes an acute rheumatic fever, how to detect the symptoms of a rheumatic fever, treatments, and prevention.

Causes of Acute Rheumatic Fever

Acute rheumatic fever is caused by a severe and untreated strep throat or scarlet fever which is a result of the Group A streptococcus bacteria. The bacteria is composed of protein which is similar to that of other body tissues; when the bacteria enters the body, it triggers the immune system, which starts attacking the body’s own tissues assuming  them to be bacterially infected. This causes inflammation in the body especially heart, joints, skin and nervous system. The inflammation can be resolved in 6 weeks without any permanent damage. However, it is important to know the symptoms of acute rheumatic fever to ensure prevention and adequate cure.

Symptoms of Acute Rheumatic Fever

Symptoms of acute rheumatic fever depend on the severity of the condition, and hence vary person-to-person. Some of the most common causes include:

  • High fever
  • Sore throat
  • Severe headache
  • Swollen and tender joints
  • Bumps under the skin often painless
  • Heart murmur
  • Acute chest pain or discomfort
  • Fatigues and dizziness
  • Red rash
  • Swollen tonsils
  • Uncontrolled movements
  • Unexplained nosebleeds
  • Excessive sweating
  • Cheat palpitations
  • Vomiting

A person may experience a few, all or no symptoms at all. The problem may worsen and cause chest ache, palpitations, disturbed heart beat, and shortness of breath. These symptoms are further aggravated by certain risk factors including:

  • Family history
  • Congenital heart problems
  • Poor sanitization
  • Poor living standard

On the other hand, inflammation caused by the acute rheumatic fever can last for months or shorted. However, a rheumatic heart disease attacks the person after years (nearly 10-20) of an acute rheumatic fever and causes permanent heart damage, especially narrowing of the valves, leakage in the valve and weakened heart muscles – all of which affect the normal functioning, heart pumping of the blood. In severe cases or prolonged damage to heart, acute rheumatic fever can also lead to heart failure and atrial fibrillation. It is thus, important to consult the doctor and do as told. The doctors might suggest an echocardiogram, electrocardiogram, or blood tests to determine the problem and suggest a planned approach the situation.

For treatment of the problem, contacting the concerned doctor would the best call. However, the only way to prevent an acute rheumatic fever is to ensure you identify a strep throat or scarlet fever problem and get adequate treatment till it is completely eradicated from the human body. More so, proper hygiene and a few precautions such as maintaining distance from sick people, avoiding sharing food with ill people, covering the mouth while coughing/sneezing and washing hands can go a long away in prevention of acute rheumatic fever. Some methods to treat the problem include:

  • Antibiotics (as suggested by the doctor)
  • Anti-inflammatory treatment
  • Anticonvulsant Medications
  • Bed rest
  • Keep distance from sick person

Further, vigilance and attentive care are very critical to determine the intensification of the acute rheumatic fever problem. In India, 75% of people with acute rheumatic fever recover and lead a normal life. Thus, it is important to know everything – causes, symptoms, treatment – to ensure that the problem is not neglected and is treated adequately, promoting a healthy heart and healthy body.

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