Rheumatic heart disease | Symptoms & Causes | Diagnosis

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Rheumatic heart disease

What is Rheumatic heart disease?

Rheumatic heart disease (RHD) describes a group of short-term (acute) and long-term (chronic) heart disorders that can occur after an episode of acute rheumatic fever (ARF). Rheumatic fever is an inflammatory disease that may affect many connective tissues of the body, especially, those of the heart, joints, brain or skin. It usually starts out as a streptococcal throat infection in children between the ages of 5 and 15 years. One common result of rheumatic fever is heart valve damage. This damage to the heart valves may lead to a valve disorders and also heart failure. RHD is the most serious complication of rheumatic fever.


Rheumatic heart disease is caused by rheumatic fever, an inflammatory disease that can affect many connective tissues, especially in the heart, joints, skin, or brain. The heart valves can be inflamed and become scarred over time. This can result in narrowing or leaking of the heart valve making it harder for the heart to function normally. This may take years to develop and can result in heart failure.

Rheumatic fever can occur at any age, but usually occurs in children ages 5 to 15 years old. It

Diagnosis & Tests

People with rheumatic heart disease will have or recently had a strep infection. A throat culture or blood test may be used to check for strep.

They may have a murmur or rub that may be heard during a routine physical exam. The murmur is caused by the blood leaking around the damages valve. The rub is caused when the inflamed heart tissues move or rub against each other.

Along with a complete medical history and physical exam, tests used to diagnose rheumatic heart disease may include:

  • Echocardiogram (echo). This test uses sound waves to check the heart's chambers and valves. The echo sound waves create a picture on a screen as an ultrasound transducer is passed over the skin overlying the heart. Echo can show damage to the valve flaps, backflow of blood through a leaky valve, fluid around the heart, and heart enlargement. It

Prevention & Risk Factors

Rheumatic heart disease can be prevented by preventing strep infections or treating them with antibiotics when they do occur. It

Treatments & Therapies

Specific treatment for rheumatic heart disease will be determined by your child's physician based on:

  • Your child's overall health and medical history
  • Extent of the disease
  • Your child's tolerance for specific medications, procedures or therapies
  • Expectations for the course of the disease
  • Your opinion or preference

The best treatment for rheumatic heart disease is prevention. Antibiotics can usually treat strep throat (a Streptococcus bacterial infection) and stop acute rheumatic fever from developing. Antibiotic therapy has sharply reduced the incidence and mortality rate of rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease.