Rheumatic heart disease is a group of short and long term heart disorders that can occur as a result of rheumatic fever.

What is rheumatic heart disease?

Rheumatic heart disease is a group of short and long term heart disorders that can occur as a result of rheumatic fever. One common outcome of rheumatic fever is heart valve damage. This damage to the heart valves may lead to a valve disorder.

Rheumatic fever is rare in Canada, the United States, and Europe. But it was fairly common until the 1950s. Widespread use of antibiotics to treat strep throat has greatly lowered the number of new cases of rheumatic fever. Most rheumatic fever cases now occur in developing countries, particularly Africa and Southeast Asia.

What are the symptoms of rheumatic heart disease?

Rheumatic fever is most common in children aged five to 15 years old. Symptoms of rheumatic heart disease may not appear until several years later.

Common symptoms include:

  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Heart palpitations (when the heart flutters or misses beats)
  • Thumping sensation in the chest
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swollen ankles, wrists or stomach

Learn more about the symptoms of rheumatic heart disease.

What are the causes of rheumatic heart disease?

Rheumatic fever is caused by certain strains of streptococcal bacteria. A strep throat infection that isn't properly treated can trigger rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever can damage the heart muscle and heart valves. Not all people who have had rheumatic fever develop rheumatic heart disease.

Learn more about the causes of rheumatic heart disease.

How is rheumatic heart disease diagnosed and treated? 

Your doctor will review your medical history and may order the following tests:

If heart damage from rheumatic fever is identified in childhood or young adulthood, daily antibiotics may be required until the age of 25 or 30. This helps prevent recurrence of rheumatic fever and inhibits the development of infective bacterial endocarditis, which is an infection of the heart valves or lining of the heart. Additional treatment will depend on the type of heart damage involved.

Resources

The following resources have information about the causes, symptoms and treatment for rheumatic heart disease.