What is rheumatic heart disease?
Rheumatic heart disease is a condition in which permanent damage to heart valves is caused by rheumatic fever. The heart valve is damaged by a disease process that generally begins with a strep throat caused by streptococcus A bacteria, that may eventually cause rheumatic fever.
The effects of rheumatic fever:
- Rheumatic fever, an inflammatory disease, can affect many connective tissues, especially in the heart, joints, skin, or brain.
- Rheumatic fever can occur at any age, but usually occurs in children five to 15 years old.
- Rheumatic fever causes heart damage – particularly scarring of the heart valves – forcing the heart to work harder to pump blood and may eventually cause congestive heart failure.
What are the symptoms of rheumatic fever?
The following are the most common symptoms for rheumatic fever; however, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms, which vary greatly, typically begin one to six weeks after a bout of strep throat, although, in some cases, the infection may have been too mild to have been recognized. Symptoms may include:
- swollen, tender, red and extremely painful joints – particularly the knees, ankles, elbows, or wrists
- nodules over swollen joints
- red, raised, lattice-like rash, usually on the chest, back, and abdomen
- uncontrolled movements of arms, legs, or facial muscles
- weakness and shortness of breath
The symptoms of rheumatic fever may resemble other bone disorders or medical problems. Consult your physician for a diagnosis.
Treatment for rheumatic heart disease:
Specific treatment for rheumatic heart disease will be determined by your physician based on:
- your overall health and medical history
- extent of the disease
- your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
- expectations for the course of the disease
- your opinion or preference
Since rheumatic fever is the cause of rheumatic heart disease, the best treatment is to prevent rheumatic fever from occurring. Penicillin and other antibiotics can usually treat strep throat (a streptococcus A bacterial infection) and stop acute rheumatic fever from developing.
Persons who have previously contracted rheumatic fever are often given continuous (daily or monthly) antibiotic treatments, possibly for life, to prevent future attacks of rheumatic fever and lower the risk of heart damage.
Antibiotic therapy has sharply reduced the incidence and mortality rate of rheumatic fever/rheumatic heart disease. To reduce inflammation, aspirin, steroids, or non-steroidal medications may be given. Surgery may be necessary to repair or replace the damaged valve.