Rheumatic Heart Disease in Children
Rheumatic heart disease is a condition that causes permanent damage to the heart
valves. It can develop after a child has rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever is the body's
response to a strep infection of the throat or tonsils, known as "strep throat."
Rheumatic fever may also follow scarlet fever. This is a strep infection of the throat
along with a red, rough-feeling skin rash. Rheumatic fever may affect the joints,
tissue under the skin, brain, and heart. If it affects the heart, it is called rheumatic
Rheumatic heart disease is caused by rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever is a complication
of an untreated or under-treated strep infection.
Rheumatic heart disease is uncommon in
the U.S. because rheumatic fever is also not common. Rheumatic fever occurs more often
in children between ages 5 and 15. This is more of a risk if they have had frequent
cases of strep throat. Poor access to medical care is a risk factor for rheumatic
disease as strep infections are more likely to be missed and go untreated.
child may have signs and symptoms due to the heart not working as well, such as:
- Trouble breathing
- Chest pain
- Swelling (edema) of the feet and ankles
- Heart murmur
Your child may also have other signs and symptoms of rheumatic fever. These include:
pain and swelling
hard, round bumps under the skin (nodules)
- Irregular or jerky movements
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
symptoms of rheumatic heart disease can be like other health conditions. Make sure
your child sees their healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and health history, including
having rheumatic fever or strep infections. They will give your child a physical exam.
Your child may also have tests, such as:
Throat culture. This is a test to see if
your child has strep throat or signs of a recent strep infection.
Echocardiography.This is an imaging test that uses sound waves (ultrasound) to make detailed
pictures of the heart.
Electrocardiography. This is a test to
measure the electrical activity of the heart.
Blood tests. For these, a small amount of
blood is taken with a needle from a vein in an arm or hand.
Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also
depend on how severe the condition is. Your child's healthcare provider will likely
refer you to a pediatric cardiologist. This is a doctor with special training to treat
heart problems in children. Your child may also see other specialists, depending on
Children with rheumatic heart disease will need to rest until their symptoms get better.
child’s healthcare provider may prescribe 1 or more of these medicines:
- Antibiotics to treat the acute strep infection
- Long-term antibiotics to prevent recurrent strep infection
- Steroids or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to ease inflammation in
the heart and in other parts of the body
- Water pills (diuretics) if heart failure develops
- Anti-inflammatory medicine for the management of fever and arthritis symptoms
Your child may also need other medicines. Some children need surgery to fix or replace
damaged heart valves.
Possible complications of rheumatic heart disease include:
- Permanent heart damage
- Acute or
chronic heart valve disease
- Heart failure
- Infection in the heart (endocarditis)
can help prevent rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease by knowing what strep
throat looks like and getting treatment for it. Your child’s healthcare provider can
a throat culture or rapid antigen detection test (RADT) to see if your child has strep
Children with damaged heart valves from rheumatic heart disease need to keep their
teeth and gums clean. They should also have regular dental exams with preventive antibiotics.
These steps can help prevent infections of the damaged heart valves.
child will need to have regular exams to check on their heart. They may also have
diagnostic tests of the heart.
your child has had rheumatic fever, the healthcare provider may prescribe periodic
antibiotics to take for several years or up to a certain age. The antibiotics keep
rheumatic fever from coming back. They also lower the risk for heart damage. It's
important that your child continue to take antibiotics as prescribed.
When to Call a Healthcare Provider
your child's healthcare provider if your child has any of these:
- Trouble breathing
- Chest pain
- Swelling (edema) of the feet or ankles
- Another sore throat
- Rheumatic heart disease is long-term damage to heart valves that is a complication
of rheumatic fever.
- Rheumatic fever stems from untreated
- You can
prevent rheumatic heart disease by knowing what strep throat looks like and getting
treatment for it.
- Rheumatic heart disease is treated with rest and medicine. If valve damage occurs,
your child may need surgery.
Before you agree to the test or the procedure for your child make sure you know:
- The name of the test or procedure
- The reason your child is having the test or procedure
- What results to expect and what they mean
- The risks and benefits of the test or procedure
- When and where your child is to have the test or procedure
- Who will do the procedure and what that person’s qualifications are
- What would happen if your child did not have the test or procedure
- Any alternative tests or procedures to think about
- When and how will you get the results
- Who to call after the test or procedure if you have questions or your child has problems
- How much will you have to pay for the test or procedure