Rheumatic heart disease is a condition in which heart valves have been permanently damaged by rheumatic fever. It’s the most common heart disease in people younger than 25 years. It also affects children aged 5-15.
Rheumatic fever can take place after a throat infection from a bacteria called group A streptococcus.
If left untreated, rheumatic heart disease can cause serious health complications resulting in heart failure and even strokes.
Rheumatic fever symptoms vary but they can include:
- Painful and tender joints — most often in the knees, ankles, elbows and wrists
- Pain in one joint that migrates to another joint
- Red, hot or swollen joints
- Small, painless bumps beneath the skin
- Chest pain
- Heart murmur
Factors that can increase the risk of rheumatic fever include:
- Family history.Some people carry a gene or genes that might make them more likely to develop rheumatic fever.
- Type of strep bacteria.Certain strains of strep bacteria are more likely to contribute to rheumatic fever than are other strains.
- Environmental factors.A greater risk of rheumatic fever is associated with overcrowding, poor sanitation and other conditions that can easily result in the rapid transmission or multiple exposures to strep bacteria.