Understanding Rheumatic Fever -- Diagnosis and Treatment
How Do I Find Out If I Have Rheumatic Fever?
To determine the presence of streptococcus bacteria, your doctor will do a throat culture. This uncomfortable but risk-free procedure involves swabbing a sample of throat mucus for lab analysis. It usually takes 24 hours to grow and analyze the culture. Some doctors also use a rapid strep test that can give results in about five minutes, but it isn't as accurate as the culture.
Your doctor will also give you a complete exam, listening to your heart for evidence of heart valve malfunction -- which will create a heart sound called a heart "murmur" -- and looking for other telltale symptoms, such as arthritis in more than one joint and the small nodules that often appear on the joints, especially the elbows.
Swollen, tender, red, and extremely painful joints -- particularly the knees or ankles
A red, raised, lattice-like rash, usually on the chest, back, and abdomen
Nodules, or small protuberances, over the swollen joints
Sometimes, weakness and shortness of breath caused by heart involvement
Sometimes, uncontrolled movements of arms, legs, or facial muscles called chorea
These symptoms often begin two to four weeks after a strep throat infection has appeared to clear up....
Appropriate, often long-term, conventional treatment can greatly lessen the risk of heart disease and other health problems associated with rheumatic fever. Alternative treatments serve as complements to conventional care -- helping to ease symptoms of the illness and helping to avoid recurrent attacks.
Your doctor will prescribe rest and penicillin or other antibiotics to get rid of the streptococcal organisms. To prevent a recurrence of the illness, you may be put on a long-term prescription of antibiotics. For fever, inflammation, arthritic joint pain, and other symptoms, you may be given aspirin or another anti-inflammatory, such as ibuprofen or naproxen, and perhaps a corticosteroid. If you have developed rheumatic heart disease, it will also be important to take antibiotics at certain times -- such as before dental procedures or surgery -- which may accidentally introduce bacteria into the blood, to prevent a reccurrence of heart valve inflammation. If inflammation to the heart is severe, surgery may eventually be necessary to repair damage to the heart valves to prevent heart failure.