Rheumatic Heart Disease

Rheumatic heart disease is heart valve damage due to rheumatic fever. The fever is your body’s inflammatory response to a bacterial infection. Children in poor countries without access to antibiotics are at the highest risk.


  • Rheumatic heart disease is heart valve damage resulting from rheumatic fever.

  • Bacterial infections called group A streptococcal (GAS) infections can cause rheumatic fever.

  • An infection, such as strep throat or scarlet fever, triggers your body’s immune response.

  • It causes inflammation throughout the body, including in the heart.

  • If untreated, the inflammation can lead to permanent heart valve damage and serious health problems.


  • Heart valve inflammation from rheumatic fever causes rheumatic heart disease.

  • The damage may occur right away. Or it can develop over time from repeated strep infections.

  • Continuing inflammation leads to heart valve scarring and narrowing.

  • The disease tends to affect the mitral and aortic heart valves.

  • These valves control blood flow. If the valves don’t work, blood leaks backward into the heart instead of flowing out of the heart.


  • Chest pain.

  • Fatigue.

  • Heart murmur.

  • Shortness of breath.

  • Swelling in the stomach, hands or feet.


  • Blood tests to check for inflammation or a high immune response.

  • Echocardiogram (an ultrasound of the heart) to find leaky or narrowed heart valves.

  • Electrocardiogram (test of the heart’s electrical activity) to check the heartbeat.


You can prevent rheumatic heart disease by taking antibiotics at the first signs of a streptococcal infection. See your healthcare provider if you or your child has:

  • Chorea (jerky, uncontrollable muscles movements).

  • Fever.

  • Joint pain.

  • Muscle pain.

  • Sore throat.

  • Tonsilitis (swollen tonsils).



Your provider may recommend medication to manage an abnormal heartbeat. Anticoagulants (blood thinners) can reduce the risk of stroke or blood clots.


Severe rheumatic heart disease may need heart valve surgery. A surgeon repairs or replaces damaged heart valves.

diseases treatments health disorders prevention cardiovascular-system rheumatic-heart-disease

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