Rheumatic fever is a bacterial infection that can cause problems with the heart's aortic and mitral valves.
Rheumatic fever is caused by certain strains of streptococcal bacteria. A strep throat infection that isn't properly treated can trigger rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever can damage heart muscle and heart valves. Not all people who have rheumatic fever develop rheumatic heart disease.
This infection causes swelling and muscle damage to the heart. It can cause heart valve leaflets to stick together, which narrows the opening of the valve. This narrowing prevents blood from moving through the heart normally.
If the aortic valve is narrowed, this problem is called aortic valve stenosis.
If the mitral valve is narrowed, this problem is called mitral valve stenosis.
Rheumatic fever is rare in Canada, the United
States, and western Europe. But it was fairly common until the 1950s.
Widespread use of antibiotics to treat strep throat has greatly lowered the number of new cases of rheumatic fever.
Today, most rheumatic fever
cases occur in developing countries, particularly Africa and southeast
Some people may develop a heart valve disease after having
rheumatic fever as a child. It might take 30 to 40
years after a case of rheumatic fever for a valve problem to develop.
November 2, 2011
Rakesh K. Pai, MD, FACC - Cardiology, Electrophysiology
& John A. McPherson, MD, FACC, FSCAI - Cardiology
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