rheumatic fever (rōmătˈĭk) [key], systemic inflammatory disease, extremely variable in its manifestation, severity, duration, and aftereffects. It is frequently followed by serious heart disease, especially when there are repeated attacks. Rheumatic fever usually affects children. It is closely related to a preceding streptococcal infection (e.g., streptococcal tonsillitis or pharyngitis). Some of its symptoms are tenderness and inflammation about the joints, fever, jerky movements, nodules under the skin, and skin rash. If inflammation of the heart, or myocarditis, is mild, there is no permanent heart damage, but if the valves of the heart become inflamed, they may become scarred and deformed, permanently impairing their function. Such heart damage can sometimes be corrected by surgery.
Treatment of rheumatic fever is with penicillin, salicylates, and steroids; extended rest is usually necessary. Rheumatic fever may be prevented by prompt treatment of all streptococcal infections. Cardiac damage may possibly be avoided if prophylactic measures are taken after a first attack of rheumatic fever, i.e., long-term maintenance doses of antibiotics, to discourage streptococcal infections and recurrences of rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever has declined in incidence in the industrialized countries, but has increased in prevalence in the Third World. See also streptococcus.