Rheumatic Heart Disease

Rheumatic fever can result in permanent damage to the valves in the heart. This condition is known as rheumatic heart disease. Mitral valve disease is just one of the cardiac problems that can occur as a result of rheumatic heart disease. Prevention is the best way to handle this condition. Understanding rheumatic fever symptoms is critical to obtain early treatment in order to mitigate the risk of rheumatic heart disease.

What Is Rheumatic Heart Disease?

When permanent damage occurs to the heart valves, a condition known as rheumatic heart disease develops. Such damage may often occur as the result of an infection related to the streptococcus bacteria. Scarlet fever and strep throat can eventually develop into rheumatic fever, in some instances.

Areas of the world most affected by rheumatic heart disease include south-central Asia, the Pacific, and sub-Saharan Africa. The indigenous populations of New Zealand and Australia are also affected. 

How Common Is Rheumatic Heart Disease?

It is estimated that more than 15 million people are affected by rheumatic heart disease. A large majority of those patients must be hospitalized repeatedly. Within the next five to twenty years, many of those people may require heart surgery.

As many as one percent of all school-age children in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Eastern Mediterranean indicate symptoms of rheumatic heart disease. Young adults and children living in economically disadvantaged countries are most at risk for developing rheumatic fever. Approximately 233,000 people die from this disease annually.

What Are the Consequences of Rheumatic Heart Disease?

image001Symptoms associated with heart valve problems may include excessive fatigue, chest pain, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, and swollen wrists or ankles. Some affected individuals may also experience problems with a swollen stomach. A number of cardiac problems may appear with rheumatic heart disease, including:



Mitral Valve Disease

This is the most common consequence associated with rheumatic heart disease. In this condition, the mitral valve becomes burdened with calcium deposits. These deposits make it impossible for the valve to function properly. As a result, the valve is often not able to open, as it should. Calcium deposits may also make it difficult for the valve to close, as it should. This is sometimes referred to as a leaky valve.

Aortic Valve Disease

This condition, like mitral valve disease, is also the result of a buildup of calcium deposits within the valves. Due to the fact that the valve may experience trouble opening and/or closing, the heart muscle may become overworked. This can cause heart failure, over time.

Atrial Fibrilation

Individuals who have rheumatic heart disease may also be likely to develop atrial fibrillation, which may result in blood clots and increase the risk of stroke. As a result, individuals who have been diagnosed with rheumatic mitral disease may be advised to take blood thinners.

Can Rheumatic Heart Disease Be Treated?

Prevention is the most effective way to cope with rheumatic heart disease. If an individual develops rheumatic fever or strep throat, a course of antibiotics may be necessary in order to limit the risk of rheumatic heart disease developing.

If an individual does develop rheumatic fever, it becomes important to ensure that future episodes are prevented. Preventative therapy may include antibiotics. Individuals who have experienced acute rheumatic fever are also advised to receive a physical exams each year to determine whether there have been any changes within the heart. The development of a new heart murmur or changes within a previous murmur may indicate the presence of damage in heart valve. In this case, a physician may order an echocardiogram to determine the extent of possible damage in heart valve.

After an individual has been diagnosed as having rheumatic heart disease, careful and regular monitoring becomes critical. This is to ensure that the heart muscle and valves continue working, as they should. Echocardiograms and physical exams may be performed from time to time. It is important to note that rheumatic heart disease can be progressive. As a result, problems with the heart valves may grow progressively worse over time. Valve replacement surgery may be required at some point in the future.

Timing is of the essence to ensure the successful outcome of the surgery. The valves must be replaced prior to the heart muscle developing permanent damage. At the same time, it is important for the heart valves to not be replaced early due to the potential risk for artificial valves becoming deteriorated over time, thus necessitating additional surgery. Individuals with rheumatic heart disease should usually be monitored by a senior cardiologist. This can assist in determining the appropriate timing for surgery, if required.

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