Rheumatic Heart Disease: A State of Faulty Machinery

Rheumatic Heart Disease
When valves of the heart gives way!!
Rheumatic heart disease is a condition of damaged heart valve that can occur after an episode of acute rheumatic fever. As a result of the condition, the heart valves become weaker and do not push through the blood as they should, thus result in a heart disease which eventually leads to heart failure.What causes it? Before going further, understand its association with rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever is an inflammatory disease that develops when the streptococcal bacteria does not get treated well.

This bacteria is responsible for strep throat and scarlet fever. Although adults do get rheumatic fever, it is typically a children’s disease, especially for the ones aged 5 – 16.

The inflammation caused by rheumatic fever affects major organs like heart, joints, skin, and nervous system. In heart, it classically damages the valves by setting in fibrosis; the valves may not open or close properly and makes it difficult for the heart to handle the flow of blood. All this can lead to congestive heart failure. Symptoms to watch out for: Rheumatic heart disease may cause following symptoms,

  • Fever accompanying fatigue
  • Red, raised, and criss-cross rashes, usually on the chest, back, and abdomen
  • Swollen, red, tender, and extremely painful joints
  • Nodules over swollen joints
  • Uncontrolled movements of facial muscles, arms, or legs
  • Shortness of breath and weakness
  • Stomach pains and weight loss
  • Palpitation and fainting attacks

Diagnosis: Establishing a final diagnosis requires the following,

  • Medical history to ascertain any past episode of acute rheumatic fever or strep infection
  • Physical examination may reveal a heart murmur that may be suggestive of RHD
  • Chest x-ray to evaluate for enlargement of the heart or fluid on the lungs due to congestive heart failure
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG) to check if the chambers of the heart have enlarged or damaged and if there is an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia)

Treatment: When the person is diagnosed with rheumatic heart disease, the following may be done to treat it, though it majorly depends on the severity of the condition,

  • Surgery to repair and/or replace the valves that are impacted
  • Antibiotics to cover infection
  • Anti-inflammatory medicine
  • Management for congestive heart failure
  • Blood-thinning medicine to prevent stroke because of faulty valve function

Prevention: The best defence against rheumatic heart disease is to keep a check on rheumatic fever at the first place. Treating strep throat immediately with penicillin or other antibiotics prescribed by the doctor can usually stop acute rheumatic fever from developing. When strep is treated right away, it does not get the opportunity to turn into rheumatic fever and cause grave heart problems.