Rheumatic Fever and the Heart

Overview

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 also damage the heart valves in a way that keeps the blood from moving through the heart normally. The infection can cause heart valve leaflets to stick together, which narrows the valve opening. Also, the infection can scar the valves. This keeps the valves from closing tightly, so blood leaks backward in the heart.

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.

If the valve does not close tightly and blood leaks backward, the problem is called aortic valve regurgitation or mitral valve regurgitation.

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