Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD) is particularly significant in children and adolescents, as it often stems from untreated or improperly treated streptococcal infections and rheumatic fever during these vulnerable years. The impact on young patients can be profound and multifaceted, affecting their health, quality of life, and even their social and educational development.

Health Impact

  • Development of RHD: Children and adolescents are at risk of developing RHD following episodes of acute rheumatic fever, which itself typically occurs in those between 5 and 15 years old. The damage to heart valves can manifest quickly or accumulate silently, often diagnosed only when the valve damage has become severe.
  • Symptoms: Affected children may exhibit symptoms such as difficulty breathing, especially during exercise, chest pain, fatigue, and palpitations. These symptoms can restrict participation in physical activities and limit overall physical development.


  • Heart Failure: Progressive valve damage can lead to heart failure in young patients, which is a severe condition requiring complex management and can significantly impact a child’s growth and development.
  • Increased Infection Risk: Damaged heart valves increase the risk of infective endocarditis, a severe and potentially life-threatening infection of the inner lining of the heart.
  • Atrial Fibrillation and Stroke: Although less common in children than in adults with RHD, these serious complications can occur, especially as affected children age.

Social and Educational Effects

  • Absenteeism: Recurrent hospital visits, prolonged treatment periods, and symptoms can lead to significant school absenteeism, impacting the child’s educational progress and social interactions.
  • Physical Activity Restrictions: Symptoms like fatigue and breathlessness might limit participation in sports or physical education, which are not only crucial for normal development but also for peer interactions and social integration.

Psychological Impact

  • Emotional Distress: Chronic illness can cause significant psychological stress for children and their families. Issues like anxiety and depression are common as children cope with chronic symptoms and the fear of invasive treatments or surgery.
  • Stigma and Isolation: In many cultures, having a chronic disease can lead to stigma. Children may feel isolated from their peers or experience bullying, further affecting their emotional and mental health.

Long-term Outlook

  • Lifelong Management: RHD in children typically requires lifelong monitoring and medical care, including continued medication, regular medical check-ups, and possibly surgery to repair or replace damaged valves.
  • Impact on Lifespan and Quality of Life: Severe RHD can shorten lifespan and significantly compromise quality of life if not adequately managed.

Prevention and Management

  • Prevention of Rheumatic Fever: The most effective way to prevent RHD in children is to promptly treat streptococcal throat infections with antibiotics and to educate communities about the importance of treating and preventing these infections.
  • Regular Medical Care: Ongoing care from pediatric cardiologists, including regular echocardiograms to monitor heart function and valve condition, is essential. In some cases, prophylactic antibiotics to prevent recurrence of rheumatic fever are recommended.

The impact of RHD on children and adolescents highlights the need for increased awareness, better preventive measures, early diagnosis, and comprehensive management to improve outcomes for affected individuals.

Last Update: June 3, 2024