Rheumatic fever is a very rare complication that can develop after a bacterial throat infection. It can cause painful joints and heart problems. Most people make a full recovery, but it can come back.

How rheumatic fever is treated

If you or your child are diagnosed with rheumatic fever, you’ll have treatment to relieve the symptoms and control inflammation.

You may need:

  • antibiotics
  • painkillers – given as tablets, capsules or a liquid you drink
  • steroid injections – if your pain is severe
  • medicines – if you’re having jerky, uncontrollable movements

You should also get plenty of bed rest to help with your recovery.

See a GP if:

  • you’ve had rheumatic fever before and you think it’s come back
  • you’ve had a bacterial throat infection recently and you develop symptoms of rheumatic fever

Symptoms of rheumatic fever

Symptoms usually appear 2 to 4 weeks after you’ve had a bacterial throat infection. They include:

  • a high temperature of 38C or above (fever)
  • redness, pain and swelling of your joints (arthritis) – usually ankles, knees, wrists or elbows
  • pain in your chest, breathlessness and a fast heart rate
  • jerky, uncontrollable movements in your hands, feet and face
  • tiny bumps under your skin
  • pale-red patches on your arms and tummy

Causes of rheumatic fever

Rheumatic fever occurs after you’ve had a bacterial throat infection. But most people who’ve had a throat infection won’t develop rheumatic fever.

It’s not caused by the bacteria itself but by your immune system fighting off the infection and attacking the healthy tissue instead.

It’s not known why your immune system can suddenly stop working properly. But your genes may make it more likely that you’ll get rheumatic fever.