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.
Atherosclerosis takes place over a lifetime. Complications from atherosclerosis tend to happen later in life. But the process of narrowing and hardening of the arteries starts early, progressing over decades.
Developing some atherosclerosis is often unavoidable. It's the result of aging and our own genetic tendencies. A much larger part, though, is determined by our behavior and lifestyle choices as we move through life.
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This infection causes swelling and muscle damage to the heart. It can cause heart valve leaflets to stick together, which narrows the opening of the valve. This narrowing prevents blood from moving through the heart normally.
Rheumatic fever is rare in Canada, the United
States, and western Europe. But it was fairly common until the 1950s.
Widespread use of antibiotics to treat strep throat has greatly lowered the number of new cases of rheumatic fever.
Today, most rheumatic fever
cases occur in developing countries, particularly Africa and southeast
Some people may develop a heart valve disease after having
rheumatic fever as a child. It might take 30 to 40
years after a case of rheumatic fever for a valve problem to develop.