What is rheumatic heart disease and rheumatic fever?
Rheumatic heart disease is a complication of rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever, which results from an untreated strep throat, can damage the heart valves, causing them to fail to close properly or not open enough. When a valve fails to close properly,
it allows blood to leak backward. When a valve does not open enough, the heart must pump harder to force blood through the narrowed opening. When damage to the heart is permanent, the condition is called rheumatic heart disease.
Rheumatic fever is an acute infectious disease that occurs primarily in children and young adults. Although it is not seen often, it is usually diagnosed as a complication arising from other conditions such as streptococcal throat infection and scarlet fever. It is characterised by fever, skin rash, pain and swelling in the joints, and inflammation of the heart membrane and valves.
Rheumatic fever occurs as a delayed consequence of an untreated upper respiratory infection with bacteria belonging to group A streptococci (streptococcal pharyngitis or "strep throat").
Strep throat and scarlet fever are two types of infections that precede rheumatic fever. If a person is not treated effectively with antibiotics for these infections, he or she may have an immune response. The effects of this response can be seen in the heart, joints, brain, and skin. The most serious effect of rheumatic fever is a heart valve defect known as mitral valve prolapse. Rheumatic fever was more common before antibiotics were available to treat infections.