Rheumatic Heart Disease

What is rheumatic heart disease?

Rheumatic heart disease is caused by permanent damage to the heart valves by rheumatic fever, which is caused by a strep throat infection that goes untreated. Rheumatic fever is caused by group A streptococcus bacteria that affects the connective tissues of the heart, skin, brain and joints.

Symptoms of rheumatic heart disease

Symptoms include swelling of the knees, ankles, elbows and wrists, and pain that moves from joint to joint. Rheumatic fever can affect the heart as well, causing scarring of the heart valves, which can lead to long-term stress on the heart (rheumatic heart disease) and heart failure. People with rheumatic heart disease may experience shortness of breath, chest pain, and swelling of the joints.

Rheumatic fever most often affects children and people up to age 25 and is more commonly seen in less developed countries where strep throat goes untreated or undertreated. It is rare in the United States.