Rheumatic heart disease is a condition in which permanent damage to
heart valves is caused by rheumatic fever. The heart valve is damaged by
a disease process that generally begins with a strep throat caused by
streptococcus A bacteria, that may eventually cause rheumatic fever.
The effects of rheumatic fever:
Rheumatic fever, an inflammatory disease, can affect many
connective tissues, especially in the heart, joints, skin, or
Rheumatic fever can occur at any age, but usually occurs in
children five to 15 years old.
Rheumatic fever causes heart damage—particularly scarring of the
heart valves—forcing the heart to work harder to pump blood and
may eventually cause congestive heart failure.
What are the symptoms of rheumatic fever?
The following are the most common symptoms for rheumatic fever; however,
each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms, which
vary greatly, typically begin one to six weeks after a bout of strep
throat, although, in some cases, the infection may have been too mild to
have been recognized. Symptoms may include:
swollen, tender, red and extremely painful joints—particularly
the knees, ankles, elbows, or wrists
nodules over swollen joints
red, raised, lattice-like rash, usually on the chest, back, and
uncontrolled movements of arms, legs or facial muscles
weakness and shortness of breath
The symptoms of rheumatic fever may resemble other bone disorders or
medical problems. Consult your physician for a diagnosis.
Treatment for rheumatic heart disease
Specific treatment for rheumatic heart disease will be determined by
your physician based on:
your overall health and medical history
extent of the disease
your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or
expectations for the course of the disease
your opinion or preference
Since rheumatic fever is the cause of rheumatic heart disease, the best
treatment is to prevent rheumatic fever from occurring. Penicillin and
other antibiotics can usually treat strep throat (a streptococcus A
bacterial infection) and stop acute rheumatic fever from developing.
Persons who have previously contracted rheumatic fever are often given
continuous (daily or monthly) antibiotic treatments, possibly for life,
to prevent future attacks of rheumatic fever and lower the risk of heart
damage. Antibiotic therapy has sharply reduced the incidence and
mortality rate of rheumatic fever/rheumatic heart disease. To reduce
inflammation, aspirin, steroids, or non-steroidal medications may be
given. Surgery may be necessary to repair or replace the damaged valve.
For more information, call 1.866.CALL.MLH.