Rheumatic Heart Disease | Symptoms and Treatment | MedStar Health

Permanent damage to the heart valves caused by rheumatic fever

Rheumatic fever is a complication of strep throat or scarlet fever that can cause inflammation of the heart, joints, skin, or brain. When this inflammation permanently damages the heart valves, it’s known as rheumatic heart disease.

Our Structural Heart and Valvular Disease Program provides specialized evaluation and ongoing care for patients with rheumatic heart disease. Damaged valves cause the heart to have to work harder to pump blood and, over time, also can cause an abnormal heart rhythm known as atrial fibrillation (AFib) or heart failure.

What are the symptoms of rheumatic fever?

Rheumatic heart disease can develop a decade or more after a strep throat or scarlet fever infection. Symptoms will vary depending on the degree of heart valve damage and may include:

  • Chest pain or discomfort

  • Fatigue or weakness

  • Shortness of breath

  • Swelling

Antibiotic treatment of strep throat or scarlet fever typically prevents rheumatic fever from occurring. While rheumatic fever is rare in the United States, it’s still common in many developing nations.


Diagnosing rheumatic heart disease is the first step to developing a treatment plan. Our specialists may recommend one or more diagnostic and imaging procedures.

Cardiac Catheterization

Cardiac catheterization is a minimally invasive way to diagnose and treat a variety of heart and vascular conditions by guiding thin, flexible tubes called catheters through blood vessels to problem areas.

Chest X-ray

Chest X-rays use a small dose of radiation to create pictures of the structures inside the chest, including the lungs, heart, and chest wall.

Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan

The cardiac computed tomography scan, or cardiac CT, uses X-rays to create three-dimensional images of your heart and blood vessels.


An echocardiogram uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of your heart.

Electrocardiogram (ECG)

An electrocardiogram, also known as an ECG, measures the heart’s electrical activity.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

Magnetic resonance imaging, better known as cardiac MRI, is a combination of radio waves, magnets and computer technology to create images of your heart and blood vessels.

Stress Tests

Stress tests are used to assess how your heart works during physical activity. There are several types of stress tests, including treadmill or bike stress tests, nuclear stress tests, stress echocardiograms, and chemically induced stress tests.


Treatment for rheumatic heart disease will depend on the extent of damage done to the heart valves. Mild damage may not need treatment, while more severe damage may require surgery to replace or repair the valve.

Heart Surgery

Heart surgery is an option to treat many heart conditions. You may need heart surgery either as a lifesaving procedure or when other treatments haven’t worked.

Valve Sparing or Valve Preserving Surgery (Reimplantation Surgery)

Valve sparing surgery is a procedure to repair an aortic root aneurysm without replacing the aortic valve.


Have questions for our heart and vascular program? Email us at AskMHVI@medstar.net.