Medical University of South Carolina Hospital logo
Home |  Video Library | Podcast Library | e-Newsletters | Classes & Events | About Us | News Blog | University & Colleges 
Contact Us | 843-792-1414

Patients & Visitors

Medical Services

Maps & Parking

Health Library

Physician Portal


Online Services
Health Library
Health Topics A to Z
Clinical Trials & Research
Tests & Procedures
Lab Tests & Results
Health Assessment Tools
Symptom Checker
Health e-Newsletters
Podcast Library
Video Library
Health Library
Bookmark Page icon Bookmark |

Print this page icon


E-mail icon

Health Library : Cardiovascular Disorders


Rheumatic Heart Disease

What is rheumatic heart disease?

Rheumatic heart disease is a condition of permanent damage to the heart valves. It is caused by rheumatic fever, which is a complication of an an untreated bacterial infection with Streptococcus, or "strep." Strep throat or scarlet fever may eventually progress to rheumatic fever if it is not treated with antibiotics.

Who is at risk for rheumatic fever?

Rheumatic fever is uncommon in the US, except in children who have had strep infections that were untreated or inadequately treated. Children ages 5 to 15, particularly if they experience frequent strep throat infections, are most at risk for developing rheumatic fever.

Why is rheumatic fever a concern?

Rheumatic fever, an inflammatory disease following a strep infection, can affect many tissues, especially the heart, joints, skin, or brain. The infection often causes heart damage, particularly scarring of the heart valves, forcing the heart to work harder to pump blood. The damage may resolve on its own, or it may be permanent, eventually causing heart failure. Heart-related complications of rheumatic fever may develop months or even years after the initial strep infection.

What are the symptoms of rheumatic fever?

The symptoms of rheumatic fever usually start about one to five weeks after your child has been infected with the Streptococcus bacteria. The following are the most common symptoms of rheumatic fever. However, each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Joint inflammation. This includes swelling, tenderness, and redness over multiple joints. The joints affected are usually the larger joints in the knees or ankles. The inflammation "moves" from one joint to another over several days.
  • Small nodules or hard, round bumps under the skin
  • A change in your child's muscle control and movements. This is usually noted by a change in your child's handwriting and may also include unusual, jerky movements.
  • A pink rash with large, round, circular edges may be seen on the trunk of the body or arms and legs. The rash may come and go. It is often described as "snake-like" in appearance.
  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Chest pain or heart palpitations
  • Shortness of breath
  • Stomach pains

The symptoms of rheumatic fever may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your child's health care provider for a diagnosis.

Treatment for rheumatic heart disease

Specific treatment for rheumatic heart disease will be determined by your child's health care provider based on age and specific symptoms.

The best treatment for rheumatic heart disease is prevention. Antibiotics can 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.

Children who have previously contracted rheumatic fever are often given continuous (daily or monthly) antibiotic treatments to prevent future attacks of rheumatic fever and lower the risk of heart damage.

If inflammation of the heart has developed, children may be placed on bed rest. Medications are given to reduce the inflammation in the heart. Other medications may be necessary to treat heart failure.

If significant heart valve damage occurs, surgical repair or replacement of the valve may be considered.

Click here to view the
Online Resources of Cardiovascular Disorders

 Sources & References


 Treatment at MUSC:
 »Heart and Vascular Center



About This Site   |   Disclaimer   |  Privacy   |   Accessibility   |   Donations   |   Site Map
171 Ashley Avenue, Charleston, SC 29403 1.843.792.1414 | © 2014 Medical University of South Carolina

mobile web site iconrss feed iconText Messaging iconPodcast Library