Complications of rheumatic fever 

Rheumatic heart disease is a common and potentially serious complication that can arise in cases of rheumatic fever.

Rheumatic heart disease develops when inflammation causes the valves in the heart to become damaged and stiffened, meaning that the normal flow of blood through the heart is disrupted.

It is estimated that around one in three people with a history of rheumatic fever will go on to develop rheumatic heart disease.

Symptoms of rheumatic heart disease include:

  • dizziness
  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • tiredness

It can take many years for these symptoms to develop after a previous episode of rheumatic fever.

Mild rheumatic heart disease can usually be treated with medication, such as ACE inhibitors. ACE inhibitors relax your arteries, making it easier for your heart to pump blood around your body.

Atrial fibrillation

In some cases, rheumatic heart disease can lead to atrial fibrillation, a heart condition that causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate.

Atrial fibrillation can lead to an increased risk of a stroke. Treatment may involve medication to control the heart rate or rhythm, and medication to prevent a stroke.

Heart failure

In more severe cases of rheumatic heart disease, the heart becomes so damaged that it cannot pump enough blood around the body. This is known as heart failure.

Heart failure that occurs in people with rheumatic heart disease may require surgery, either to replace a damaged valve with an artificial one or expand the valve with a tiny balloon.

Read more about the treatment of heart failure.

Endocarditis prophylaxis

If you have had rheumatic fever before, you may need antibiotics during surgery to protect the heart valves from becoming infected (endocarditis).

Page last reviewed: 26/02/2014

Next review due: 26/02/2016