Although having rheumatic fever leaves a child more susceptible to heart damage, it does not always permanently damage the heart. However, when the inflammation caused by rheumatic fever leaves one or more of the heart valves scarred, the result is rheumatic heart disease. The mitral valve and the aortic valve are usually the ones damaged by the disease. Years later, the mitral valve may become narrowed, a condition known as mitral stenosis.
Treatment of acute rheumatic fever includes antibiotics to treat the strep infection and additional medications to ease the inflammation of the heart and other symptoms. Usually aspirin is given in large doses until the joint inflammation goes away; rarely, steroids are needed. Once the acute illness has gone away, patients need to take penicillin, or an equivalent antibiotic, for many years to prevent recurrences. This is a very important treatment because the risk of heart valve damage increases if rheumatic fever recurs.
Most often the valve leak caused by the disease is mild and does not need treatment. If the leak is severe enough to strain and enlarge the heart, surgery may be needed to eliminate the leak. This surgery may involve repair of the damaged valve. Sometimes the valve is too badly damaged to repair, in which case it must be replaced by an artificial valve.
Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital.
Cardiac Intensive Care Unit
505 Parnassus Ave., Seventh Floor
San Francisco, CA 94143
Phone: (415) 353-1955
Fax: (415) 353-9144