The objectives of the study were to evaluate severity of rhenumatic heart disease (RHD) using age at time of death as its indicator and to look for factors associated with the severity. Retrospective study of consecutive cardiovascular deaths in the medical wards of Tikur Anbassa Teaching Hospital (TAH) from January 1995 to December 2001 was carried out. Information on age at the time of death, sex, type of valve lesions, status of secondary prophylaxis, presence or absence of arrhythmia, infective endocarditis, embolic phenomena, co-morbid illness, immediate cause(s) of death and duration of follow up at health institutions were obtained There were a total of 457 cardiovascular deaths including cerebrovascular accidents (CVA). 121(26.5%) were due to RHD. Charts of 115 RHD patients were available for detailed analysis. The overall mean age at the time of death was 25.89+/-11.05 years. The median age for males was lower than that of females (19 years, I.Q. 16-32 versus 25 years, IQ 15 - 30 years), but not statistically significantly different (p = 0. 10). There were more female deaths accounting for 57.4 %. About 70% of RHD patients died from congestive heart failure. Eleven per cent (13 patients) each died from systemic embolism and co-morbid conditions. Combined mitral and aortic valve disease within a patient accounted for majority (42.6%) of the lesions followed by combined mitral regurgitation and stenosis (24.4%). Isolated mitral stenosis, or regurgitation was a relatively less common cause of death. Aortic valve lesion without mitral valve involvement was a rare cause (3.5%) of death. In conclusion RHD in our patients ran more aggressive course as indicated by death occurring at much younger age than in even the preprophylaxis era in western world. The more frequent combined valve lesions and infrequent secondary prophylaxis may significantly contribute to the rapid course, but cannot fully explain the very low mean age. Factors responsible for rapid course in an Ethiopian need to be addressed urgently.