Significant Findings of Rheumatic Heart Disease and Penicillin Therapy

Page content

Rheumatic Heart Disease Overview

Rheumatic heart disease is a complication of rheumatic fever, a condition that begins with strep throat, leading to inflammation. Following an infection of strep, this disease can develop and the signs and symptoms may not even become apparent until a few weeks later. Typically, signs and symptoms will consist of a fever, inflammation of joints and other areas of the body, shortness of breath and fatigue. In some cases, skin rash, chest pain and heart palpations may also be noted. According to the American Heart Association, the highest incidence of rheumatic fever occurs in children, those between the ages of five and fifteen. However, this condition can develop regardless of age and the condition may be acute, or the individual may suffer from this disease for a lifetime. Although treatment options will vary, many patients falsely assume that rheumatic heart disease and penicillin go hand-in-hand.

What About Treatment Options?

Antibiotics such as penicillin are often utilized after a diagnosis of rheumatic fever or heart disease has been confirmed. This helps reduce complications by ensuring that the initial strep infection is in fact gone. However, penicillin may also be used to prevent damage done to the valves of the heart by eliminating the risk of concurrent infections. The length of this antibiotic regimen will depend on multiple factors, such as the patient’s risk, age and whether or not heart valve damage has already occurred. Treatment recommendations via this antibiotic can range anywhere from a few years to the rest of the individuals life. Currently, there is much debate as to the degree that prolonged penicillin therapy is beneficial in cases of this disease. However, all sources maintain that prevention is the main goal in antibiotic therapy.

Considerations for Antibiotic Use and Other Types of Treatment

One of the biggest obstacles with rheumatoid heart disease and penicillin has nothing to do with the effectiveness, but the patient’s tolerance. There are many individuals that are allergic to this drug and it may not be suitable for all individuals. In these cases, the physician may prescribe another antibiotic, such as Erythromycin, which is shown to be just as effective. However, there are other drugs that may be used in combination with antibiotic therapy. This may include, but is not limited to steroids and ACE inhibitors. The type of drugs that are prescribed will depend on the age of the patient and whether or not they are a suitable candidate for such treatments.


Rheumatic Heart Disease. Massachusetts General Hospital. 2010. Viewed 29, October 2010.

Rheumatic Heart Disease: Treatment and Medication. Medscape. Updated 4, August 2010. Viewed 29, October 2010.

Rheumatic Heart Disease/ Rheumatic Fever. American Heart Association. 2010. Viewed 29, October 2010.