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Rheumatic Heart Disease Australia

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About the Disease

Acute Rheumatic Fever

Acute rheumatic fever is an illness following an autoimmune response to a group A streptococcus, or ‘Strep A’ infection. Strep A bacteria can cause infection in various parts of the body, including the throat (strep throat) and skin (skin sores, pyoderma, impetigo). For some people with these Strep A infections, the body’s immune system gets confused when reacting to the infection, and the result is a generalised inflammatory illness called acute rheumatic fever.

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Rheumatic Heart Disease

Rheumatic heart disease is a serious disease of the heart involving damage to one or more of the four small heart valves. The valve damage can remain after acute rheumatic fever. During rheumatic fever the heart valve tissue, and sometimes other parts of the heart (the heart lining or muscle) can become swollen, and this is called carditis. Following carditis, the heart valves can remain damaged then become scarred, and the result is an interruption to normal blood flow through the damaged valves. When the heart is damaged in this way, the heart valve is not able to function adequately, and this is called rheumatic heart disease.

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Women, Girls and Pregnancy

Rheumatic heart disease is twice as common in females than in males, and it affects women during their child-bearing years. A woman’s journey with acute rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease often starts before pregnancy, and pregnancy can be a risky time for some women with rheumatic heart disease. Decisions about managing the disease during childhood and teenage years have lifelong consequences for women who want families.

If acute rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease are diagnosed early and well-managed, and if pregnancy and delivery are well-planned, and carefully monitored by medical specialists, women with rheumatic heart disease can have safe pregnancies and deliver healthy babies.

More information for Health Professionals

Last Updated 
15 October 2020
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