Rheumatic heart disease is a condition where heart valves are permanently blocked or damaged by rheumatic fever. The damage may start immediately after under-treated or untreated streptococcal infections like scarlet fever or strep throat.
Find out through this article everything you need to know about rheumatic heart disease, from causes, risk factors, diagnosis, and treatment.
What are the causes of rheumatic heart disease?
This disease is caused by rheumatic fever, an inflammatory condition affecting several connective tissues, particularly the heart, brain, joint, or skin. The heart valve becomes inflamed and scarred over time.
This scarring and inflammation cause the heart valves to leak or narrow, making it difficult for the heart to function normally. If left unattended for long, it can result in heart failure.
Rheumatic fever happens to anyone at any age but is usually common in children below 15 years old. While it is a severe complication, it is very rare in first-world countries like the US.
Children with repeated strep throat infections are at high risk of developing rheumatic heart disease. Also, under-treated or untreated scarlet fever or strep throat infection can escalate your chances of rheumatic heart disorder.
Symptoms of rheumatic heart disease.
The current history of rheumatic fever is the primary diagnosis procedure for rheumatic heart disease. The symptoms vary and usually start between one to six weeks after a period of strep throat infection.
In some instances, the infection may resolve by the time you see a doctor or be too mild to be recognized.
The following are the most common signs and symptoms of rheumatic fever:
- Swollen, red, and very painful joints, especially on the knees.
- Lumps under the skin or nodules.
- Red, raised lattice-like skin rashes often on the back, chest, and abdomen.
- Uncontrolled body movements, especially on the arms, facial muscles, and legs.
- Chest discomfort and shortness of breath.
On the other hand, symptoms of rheumatic heart disease vary depending on the degree of the damage.
They may include; shortness of breath, particularly during activity, swelling, and chronic chest pains.
Diagnosis of rheumatic heart disease.
Rheumatic heart disease victims may have had a past or current history of strep throat infection. Usually, a blood test or throat culture is used to diagnose strep infection.
There may be a rub or murmur that is heard during routine physical examination. This sound is often a result of the leaking blood from the damaged valve. While the rub is due to moving inflamed tissues rubbing against each other.
Together with a physical exam and medical history, the following tests can be used to diagnose rheumatic heart disease.
- Electrocardiogram. This test displays the timing and strength of the electrical function of the heart. It can also detect heart muscle damage and abnormal rhythms.
- Echocardiogram. This test applies sound waves to check the heart valves and chambers. The sound wave creates an image on the screen as the ultrasound machine is passed over the body.
- Cardiac MRI. This is another imaging test that is used to get more precise and detailed pictures of the heart muscles and valves.
- Chest X-ray. An X-ray can be done to see if your heart system is damaged.
- Blood test. Different blood tests can be done to check for infections and inflammation.
How rheumatic heart disease is treated.
The treatment of this disease depends largely on the degree of damage to the heart valves. In a severe scenario, the treatment may involve surgery to replace or repair seriously damaged valves.
Antibiotic drugs can be used to strep infection and prevent the development of rheumatic heart disease, while anti-inflammatory medications are used to reduce inflammation. However, despite the availability of treatment options, the best way to treat this disease is prevention.
Rheumatic heart disease is a condition where the heart valves are permanently damaged. It is caused as a result of untreated or under-treated strep infection or scarlet fever.
The disease can occur in anyone but is common in children below 15 years. While there are several treatment options like corrective surgery, the ideal treatment is prevention.