Rheumatic fever may trigger scarring on the heart valves, which leads to a lifetime of heart disease.
Cases of rheumatic fever in the United States are generally rare, but worldwide more than 20 million people are affected. Rheumatic fever and subsequent rheumatic heart disease is the leading cause of death from heart problems in people under 50 years of age in developing nations.
The American Heart Association says the best way to avoid rheumatic fever and its side effects is to treat strep throat with antibiotics.
The organization says patients should be sure to be checked out and have a throat culture, especially if they experience the following symptoms: sudden onset of a severe sore throat that is accompanied by high fever, headache, or stomach pains.
Doctors recommend a course of penicillin to treat strep in both children and adults. They remind patients to finish the prescription to be sure they have killed off the disease, even if the sore throat improves after only a few days.
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