Rheumatic Heart Disease


Acute rheumatic fever (ARF) is caused by an immunological response to Group A streptococcal (GAS) infection and can lead to permanent heart damage, a condition known as rheumatic heart disease (RHD). RHD can damage any part of the heart including the valves (especially those on the left) or the lining of the heart muscles. The damaged heart valve cannot open or shut properly which then interferes with the proper flow of blood through the heart.

Without treatment, complications can arise such as heart failure – meaning the heart cannot pump blood effectively around the body. Other complications of RHD include infection of damaged heart valves or a stroke as a result of clots forming causing blockage in the blood vessels to the brain.

Australia has one of the highest rates of acute rheumatic fever (ARF) and rheumatic heart disease (RHD) in the world. Indigenous Australians are up to eight times more likely than other groups to be hospitalised and nearly 20 times as likely to die from this disease.

Risk factors for RHD:

  • Poverty
  • Poor living conditions (eg. overcrowding)
  • Limited access to medical care


  • Chest pain
  • Heart palpitations
  • Breathlessness on exertion
  • Swelling
  • Fainting
  • Waking from sleep with the need to sit or stand up


Here are some helpful online resources on Rheumatic Heart Disease:

United States

RHD Action

RHD Action is the global movement that aims to reduce the burden of rheumatic heart disease (RHD) in vulnerable populations of all ages throughout the world.



RHDAustralia supports the control of rheumatic heart disease in Australia. The organisation updates evidence based guidelines to support Australia’s health workforce to achieve best practice care for people with ARF and RHD.


Related Articles