Young girl with a thermometer in her mouth.Links updated, July 2015
A legacy fact sheet from NICHCY


The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), our nation’s special education law, defines 14 categories of disability under which a child may be found eligible for special education and related services. One of those categories is “Other Health Impairment,” or OHI, for short. Within OHI’s definition, numerous disabilities and medical conditions are explicitly named. Rheumatic fever is one such.

This short resource page accompanies a longer fact sheet on Other Health Impairment and provides a brief overview of rheumatic fever and connections to sources of additional information.

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A Brief Look at Rheumatic Fever

Rheumatic fever can develop as a complication of untreated or poorly treated strep throat or scarlet fever. While it is most often seen in children from 5 to 15, younger children and adults can also contract rheumatic fever. It’s not very common in the United States, although it is fairly common worldwide. Rheumatic fever can develop about 20 days after an individual has the untreated or poorly treated strep throat or scarlet fever.

Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Pain in one joint that migrates to another joint
  • Red, hot or swollen joints
  • Small, painless nodules beneath the skin
  • Rapid, fluttering or pounding heartbeats (palpitations)
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • A painless rash with a ragged edge
  • Jerky, uncontrollable body movements, most often in the hands, feet and face
  • Unusual behavior, such as crying or inappropriate laughing

It’s very important to treat rheumatic fever, because it can cause permanent damage to the heart, especially the valves. Diagnosing the condition usually involves a physical exam by the doctor, who will look for signs of tender or swollen joints, the tell-tale rash, and abnormal heart rhythm. Typically, a blood test for strep throat is also done.

Antibiotics are the usual treatment for rheumatic fever, to eliminate the strep bacteria from the system. Depending on the severity of the infection, treatment may also include anti-inflammatory drugs to bring down the swelling in the joints. It’s also not unusual for a person to have to take low-dose antibiotics continually for years (especially the first 3 -5 years after the first episode) to prevent rheumatic fever from coming back.

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Resources of More Information on Rheumatic Fever

Mayo Clinic

(A service of the National Library of Medicine) (Información en español)

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