Rheumatic heart disease describes a group of short-term (acute) and long-term (chronic) heart disorders that can occur as a result of rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever is an inflammatory disease that may affect many connective tissues of the body, especially those of the heart, joints, brain or skin. It usually starts out as a strep throat (streptococcal) infection. Anyone can get acute rheumatic fever, but it usually occurs in children between the ages of 5 and 15 years. About 60% of people with rheumatic fever develop some degree of subsequent heart disease.
One common result of rheumatic fever is heart valve damage, particularly scarring of the heart valves, forcing the heart to work harder to pump blood. The damage may resolve on its own, or it may be permanent, eventually causing congestive heart failure (CHF). CHF is a condition in which the heart cannot pump out all of the blood that enters it, which leads to an accumulation of blood in the vessels leading to the heart and fluid in the body tissues.