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Introduction to Rheumatic Fever

Rheumatic fever is an inflammatory disease that may develop as a complicationof untreated strep throat. Sometimes it is caused by a poorly treated strepthroat. Strep throat is a disease caused by infection with group Astreptococcus bacteria. Although it might occur with younger children andadults, it is most common with younger adults. The typical age group affectedby this disease is from 5 till 15 years of age. It is very uncommon indeveloped countries.

There are certain factors that might increase a person’s risk of getting this disease.First of all, a person’s genetic traits may be a contributing factor. There arecertain genes passed through someone’s family that may make them more susceptibleto getting rheumatic fever. Also, environmental factors should not be neglectedwhen considering the causes of rheumatic fever. A larger risk of rheumaticfever is linked to overcrowded places, poor sanitation and other conditionsthat may easily result in the speedy transmission of this disease. In thesecases, there is also a risk of more people being exposed to strep bacteria.

The only way of preventing rheumatic fever is to avoid overcrowded places. Forpeople that already have strep throat it is important that they consult adoctor as soon as they notice the first symptoms, so that the doctor mightprescribe the adequate course of treatment. In that way, the disease will bedealt with promptly, and the risk of getting rheumatic fever decreasessignificantly.

Causes

This condition can happen after an infection of the throat with a bacteriumcalled Streptococcus pyogenes, or group A streptococcus (more often if it hasbeen left untreated or has been poorly treated). Theexact link between strep infection and rheumatic fever is not until this day clear,but it appears that the bacterium deceives the body’s immune system. The strep bacteriumcontains a protein similar to one found in certain tissues of the body. This iswhy the immune system cells that would normally target the bacterium may treatthe body's own tissues as if they were causing the infection (this happens particularlyto the tissues of the heart, joints, skin and central nervous system). Thisimmune system reaction results in inflammation.

Symptoms

The symptoms of rheumatic fever may vary from person to person. Some might haveseveral symptoms, while others experience only a few, and only mildly. Thesymptoms of rheumatic fever are: fever, red, swollen joints, chest pain,painless nodules beneath the skin, fatigue, shortness of breath, painful andtender joints, jerky body movements, skin rash, weight loss, etc.

Treatment

Most commonly, the doctor will prescribe antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs,or anticonvulsant medications, all in order for them to destroy any remainingbacteria, relieve symptoms, and, finally, prevent any more episodes of thiscondition.

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