What is rheumatic heart disease?
Rheumatic heart disease describes a group of short-term (acute) and long-term (chronic) heart disorders that can occur
as a result of rheumatic fever. One common result of rheumatic fever is heart valve damage. This damage to the heart
valves may lead to a valve disorder.
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 strep throat (streptococcal) infection. Anyone can get an acute rheumatic
fever, but it usually occurs in children between the ages of 5 and 15 years. About 60% of people with rheumatic fever
develop some degree of subsequent heart disease.
Every part of the heart, including the outer sac (the pericardium), the inner lining (the endocardium) and the valves may be
damaged by inflammation caused by acute rheumatic fever. However, the most common form of rheumatic heart disease
affects the heart valves, particularly the mitral valve. It may take several years after an episode of rheumatic fever for valve
damage to develop or symptoms to appear.
Antibiotics can prevent streptococcal infection from developing into rheumatic fever. Any child with a persistent sore
throat should have a throat culture to check for strep infection. Penicillin or another antibiotic will usually prevent strep
throat from developing into rheumatic fever.
Symptoms of heart valve problems, which are often the result of rheumatic heart disease, can include chest pain,
excessive fatigue, heart palpitations (when the heart flutters or misses beats), a thumping sensation in the chest,
shortness of breath, and swollen ankles, wrists or stomach.
If heart damage from rheumatic fever is identified in childhood or young adulthood, daily antibiotics may be required until
the age of 25 or 30, to help prevent recurrence of rheumatic fever and avoid the development of infective bacterial
endocarditis, an infection of the heart valves or lining of the heart. Additional treatment will depend on the type of heart
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