What is it?

Rheumatic heart disease is a disease in which the heart valves are permanently damaged by rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever is an inflammatory disease that affects connective tissues, occurring after an immunological response to streptococcal infection such as strep throat or scarlet fever. As a result of the inflammation, the heart valves become scarred over time, which results in narrowing and leaking, damaging their function. Rheumatic fever is more common in children older than 5 years old, though it may occur at any age.

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Signs & symptoms

Symptoms of rheumatic heart disease vary and usually begin 1-6 weeks after strep infection. Symptoms of rheumatic fever may include fever, swollen, tender, red, painful joints, nodules, lattice-like rash, usually on the chest, back and abdomen, shortness of breath, uncontrolled movements of arms, leg or facial muscles and weakness. Symptoms of rheumatic heart disease depend on the severity of valvular damage and may include shortness of breath, chest pain and swelling.


Diagnosis of rheumatic heart disease requires a proof of previous infection with strep- by a throat culture or blood test. On physical examination, a murmur and a rub may be heard. An echocardiogram, ECG, chest X-ray, and cardiac MRI will also help to perform a diagnosis.


Treatment of rheumatic heart disease depends on the location of the damage. A surgery to repair or replace the heart valves may be performed. The best way to treat rheumatic heart disease is by prevention with antibiotics for strep infection. After having rheumatic fever, people are given antibiotics, sometimes for life, to prevent recurring infection. For reducing inflammation, aspirin, steroids and non-steroidal medicines may be given.

☝️ This is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Please consult with your physician before making any medical decision.

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