The natural history of latent rheumatic heart disease in a 5 year follow-up study: a prospective observational study

Background: Latent rheumatic heart disease (RHD) occurs in asymptomatic individuals with echocardiographic evidence of RHD and no history of acute rheumatic fever. The natural history of latent RHD is unclear but has important clinical and economic implications about whether these children should receive penicillin prophylaxis or not. We performed a 5-year prospective study of this question. Methods: In August 2013 through September 2014, we conducted a follow-up study of latent RHD among school pupils using the World Heart Federation (WHF) echocardiographic criteria. Contingency tables were used to assess progression, persistence or regression of latent RHD. Results: Forty two borderline and 13 definite cases of RHD (n 55) were identified, 44 (80 %; mean age 13.8 ± 4.0 years; 29 (65.9 %) female) of whom were available for echocardiographic examination at a median follow-up of 60.8 months (interquartile range 51.3-63.5). Over the follow-up period, half the participants (n = 23; 52.3 %) improved to normal or better WHF category (regressors), a third (n = 14, 31.8 %) remained in the same category (persistors), while seven others (15.9 %) progressed from borderline to definite RHD (progressors). In total, 21 subjects (47.7 %) reverted to a normal status, nine (20.4 %) either improved from definite to borderline or remained in the borderline category, and 14 (31.8 %) either remained definite or progressed from borderline to a definite status. Two cases (20 %) progressed to symptomatic disease. Conclusions: Latent RHD has a variable natural history that ranges from regression to normal in nearly half of cases, to persistence, progression or development of symptoms in the remainder of subjects.