What is Rheumatic heart disease?
Rheumatic heart disease is a condition in which the heart valves (flap-like structures which prevent the blood from flowing backwards) are damaged by a disease process that begins with a throat infection caused by the streptococcal bacteria. If not treated this throat infection leads to rheumatic fever, repeated episodes of which may cause rheumatic heart disease.
Rheumatic fever is an inflammatory disease that affects the connective tissues of the body-especially those of the heart, the joints, the brain or the skin. When rheumatic fever permanently damages the heart, the condition is called rheumatic heart disease.
People of all ages can suffer from acute rheumatic fever, but it usually occurs in children five to fifteen years old.
Symptoms of rheumatic fever
- Swollen, tender, red and painful joints-particularly the knees, ankles, elbows, or wrists
- Nodules or lumps over swollen joints
- Uncontrolled movements of arms, legs, or muscles of the face
- Weakness and shortness of breath.
What happens when a heart valve is damaged?
A damaged heart valve either does not completely close (insufficiency) or does not completely open (stenosis). A heart valve that does not close properly, allows blood leak back into the chamber from which it was pumped. This is called regurgitation or leakage. With the next heartbeat, this blood flows through the valve and mixes with blood that flows normally. This extra volume of blood passing through the heart puts added strain to the heart muscle. When a heart valve doesn’t open enough, the heart must pump harder than the normal to force blood through the narrowed opening. Usually there are no symptoms of this until the opening becomes very narrow.
How is it diagnosed?
A chest X-ray and an electrocardiogram are two tests commonly used to determine if the heart has been affected.
What is the treatment?
The doctor determines the specific treatment based on the overall health, medical history, and the extent of the disease. Since rheumatic fever is the cause of the heart disease, the best treatment is to prevent rheumatic fever from occurring.
How can it be prevented?
The best prevention against rheumatic heart disease is to prevent rheumatic fever. This can usually be accomplished by prompt and adequate treatment of throat infection. If rheumatic fever develops, continuous antibiotic treatment may be needed to prevent further attacks.