What Is Rheumatic Heart Disease?
Rheumatic (pronounced roo-MAT-ik) heart disease is a condition in which the heart is damaged by rheumatic fever.
Rheumatic fever can develop when an infection with Streptococcus bacteria—like strep throat or, less commonly, scarlet fever—is not treated or not fully treated with antibiotics. It can affect the heart, joints, skin and brain.
In the heart, rheumatic fever can cause serious, permanent damage. Most often it damages the mitral valve, aortic valve or both. These valves are doors in the heart that allow blood to pass between or out of the chambers on the left side of the heart.
Damage to the valves from rheumatic fever is known as valvulitis.
Rheumatic fever also can affect the heart muscle, a condition known as myocarditis, or the outer membrane of the heart, a condition known as pericarditis.
Rheumatic Heart Disease in Children
Most of the time, rheumatic fever occurs in children between the ages of 5 and 15. Sometimes younger children or adults develop the disease.
A child who has had strep throat or scarlet fever that was not treated completely may develop rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever is the leading cause of acquired valve disease in the world, but it is not very common in the United States.
Usually the symptoms of rheumatic heart disease show up 10 to 20 years after the original illness. The mitral valve (between the left atrium, one of the atria, and ventricle) is usually more severely affected than the aortic valve (between the left ventricle and aorta).
Rheumatic heart disease can be prevented by preventing rheumatic fever. Doctors can usually stop rheumatic fever from occurring by treating strep throat with antibiotics.
Rheumatic Heart Disease at Seattle Children’s
We have extensive experience with the treatment these patients may require, including surgery for valve problems. We also have a pediatric cardiac anesthesia team, cardiac intensive care unit and experts in pediatric infectious diseases ready to care for children with this condition.
When you come to Children's, a team of people will take care of your child. Along with your child's cardiologist, you are connected with neonatologists, pulmonologists (lung doctors), nurses, child life specialists, social workers and others, if their expertise is needed. We work together to meet all of your child's health needs and help your family through this experience.
Since 1907, Children's has been treating children only. Our team members are trained in their fields and also in meeting the unique needs of children. For example, the doctors who give your child anesthesia are board certified in pediatric anesthesiology. This means they have extra years of training in how to take care of kids. Our child life specialists know how to help children understand their illnesses and treatments in ways that make sense for their age. Our expertise in pediatrics truly makes a difference for our patients and families.