What is familial Mediterranean fever?

Familial Mediterranean fever is a disorder that causes fevers and inflammation in various parts of the body.

It’s an autoinflammatory disorder. This means that it happens because the immune system starts acting like you have an infection when you haven’t. Your immune cells attack your own body by mistake, and this results in fevers and inflammation.

Familial Mediterranean fever is also genetic – that is, it runs in families. Children get familial Mediterranean fever only when they inherit the faulty gene for it from both parents.

Familial Mediterranean fever is rare and usually affects only children of Mediterranean origin.

Symptoms of familial Mediterranean fever

The most common symptom of familial Mediterranean fever is recurrent fevers that can’t be explained by another cause.

If your child has familial Mediterranean fever, she might have other symptoms during an attack. These include:

  • stomach, muscle or chest pain
  • joint pain or swelling (most commonly the knees and ankles)
  • constipation or diarrhoea
  • rashes, especially on the lower legs.

Attacks of familial Mediterranean fever usually last 2-3 days and vary in how bad they are and how often they happen.

Children with familial Mediterranean fever are well between attacks.

Symptoms of familial Mediterranean fever usually appear at 5-15 years.

Should you see your doctor about familial Mediterranean fever symptoms?

Yes. You should see your GP if you have a family history of familial Mediterranean fever and your child has unexplained fevers that happen with or without any of the other symptoms listed above.

Tests for familial Mediterranean fever

Your GP will usually make a diagnosis by looking at your child’s symptoms and examining your child.

Your GP will try to rule out common causes for your child’s recurrent fevers and other symptoms. The GP will look at familial Mediterranean fever as a diagnosis only if there isn’t another explanation for the symptoms. This is because familial Mediterranean fever is a rare condition.

In some cases your child might be given the medication colchicine for 3-6 months as a test. If your child’s symptoms are less frequent while he’s taking colchicine, the doctor might consider familial Mediterranean fever as a diagnosis.

Your child can have genetic testing for familial Mediterranean fever, but it might not pick up all cases.

Treatment of familial Mediterranean fever

There’s no cure for familial Mediterranean fever.

People who have this disorder usually take colchicine every day. This can prevent severe attacks and long-term complications of familial Mediterranean fever.