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Just diagnosed? ARF

Just diagnosed? ARF

Doctors and nurses can diagnose ARF by listening to your story, examining you, doing blood tests, heart tracing (ECG, EKG) and sometimes a heart scan (echo) or chest x-ray. Sometimes you will need to go to hospital for all these tests to be done and to confirm the diagnosis. Being diagnosed is the first step to getting better and reducing the risk of long term heart damage.



When you are diagnosed with ARF you may need:

Medication for joint pain

  • Aspirin and other anti-inflammatory medications are often used to reduce joint pain.

Medications for heart failure

  • These medicines are usually diuretics and work by making your kidneys produce more urine to reduce the amount of fluid in your body. People with heart failure during ARF may be asked to rest in bed or reduce their physical activity to let the heart recover.

Medications for abnormal movements

  • People who have had a special kind of rheumatic fever called chorea (sometimes, Sydenham’s chorea) may need medicine to manage nerve and muscle symptoms of ARF.
  • Antibiotics to treat recent strep infection.
  • Penicillin antibiotics are often used when ARF is first diagnosed to treat any remaining strep infection.

A small number of people with rheumatic fever will need heart surgery. However, for most people the symptoms of ARF improve over weeks to months.

Watch a video of Hakopa or Talia'uli Vete from New Zealand talking about his experience of finding out he had been diagnosed with ARF.

Children and young people who have been diagnosed with ARF are at risk of having ARF again. Each attack of ARF can increased damage to the heart valves and increase the chance of developing RHD. If you have been diagnosed with ARF your doctor or health worker may recommend that you have long term antibiotics to reduce this risk. This is call secondary prophylaxis. Read more about secondary prophylaxis here.

It is normal to have lots of questions about ARF and what it means for you. It may be helpful to write a list of questions to ask your nurse, doctor or specialist. Questions may include:

  • Do I need to be on long term antibiotics (secondary prophylaxis) to reduce the risk of having ARF again?
  • Do I need to have heart scan (echo?). When should I have it?
  • What symptoms should I look out for? What should I do if I have them?
  • When should I see a health worker for follow up?
  • What should I do if have a sore throat or skin sore?

What can I do?

Parents, families and communities

Children and young people diagnosed with ARF will need your help to manage symptoms of the illness and to learn about the need for ongoing treatment. Families have an important role in educating siblings of people with ARF who may be more at risk of the disease themselves. Siblings and other family members should be aware of sore throats and joint pain and to make sure these symptoms are checked by a health worker if they occur.

You may also choose to raise awareness of RHD in your wider community by sharing your story, hosting events or working with organisations who are involved in RHD control.