Rheumatic Fever and Heart Valve Complications

Rheumatic Fever is caused by a bacterial infection, resulting from having strep throat or scarlet fever. Most commonly found in 5 to 15 year old children, it can occur in people who are younger or older, and affects women more frequently than men. It usually results from a strep throat infection that wasn’t treated appropriately with antibiotics.  Rheumatic fever affects the body’s connective tissue in the brain, joints, and especially the ones found in the heart valves. It causes scarring of these heart valves which doesn’t allow them to open and close properly. This is called rheumatic heart disease and is permanent unless surgically corrected.

Symptoms of rheumatic fever usually begin anywhere from a week to six weeks after a strep infection. They include:

• Fever
• Joint stiffness – ankles, knees, hands and elbows
• Joint swelling
• Chest pain
• Shortness of breath
• Stomach pain
• Loss of appetite
• Skin rash

To diagnose rheumatic fever a physician will perform a throat culture, blood tests, listen to the heart for signs of a murmur, take an x-ray and an electrocardiogram. Anyone who has a sore throat should see a physician to rule out strep throat.  If a diagnosis of strep is made, antibiotics can be prescribed which should prevent the bacterial infection from spreading. In cases where the heart valves have been affected,   a patient may need to be placed on a long term antibiotic, and also anti-inflammatory medication. In severe cases, surgery may be required to replace the affected heart valves.

Anyone who has a sore throat that is mild to severe should seek medical attention right away. You may schedule an appointment at Jamaica Hospital’s Ambulatory Care Center by calling 718-206-7001.

All content of this newsletter is intended for general information purposes only and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Please consult a medical professional before adopting any of the suggestions on this page. You must never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking medical treatment based upon any content of this newsletter. PROMPTLY CONSULT YOUR PHYSICIAN OR CALL 911 IF YOU BELIEVE YOU HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY.