Rheumatic Heart Disease - Symptoms, Risk factors and Treatment

Rheumatic heart disease is a condition in which the heart valves are damaged due to rheumatic fever. It may occur after getting infected with an untreated or under-treated streptococcal infection such as strep throat or scarlet fever. As an immune system response, the body damages the heart valves. 


Understanding the normal functioning and structure of the heart


Your heart is surrounded by a layer called pericardium- a two-layered fluid-filled sac that supports and protects your heart. The pericardium protects your heart from infections and malignancies. Moreover, it prevents your heart from expanding, which occurs when blood volume is increased. Therefore, keeping it functioning properly. On the inside, the heart has four chambers, the upper two atria. And the lower two ventricles, and two sides- the left side and the right side. The right side of the heart pumps blood to your lungs to receive oxygen, while the left side of your heart receives that blood from the lungs and pumps it to the whole body. The left side of the heart has oxygenated blood and the right side of the heart has deoxygenated blood. Your lungs receive oxygen-poor blood from the right side of the heart via the pulmonary artery. In the lungs, the blood receives oxygen and becomes oxygen-rich, and is then carried to the left side of your heart via the pulmonary vein.


Symptoms 


The signs and symptoms of rheumatic heart disease are;

 

  • Cough

  • Breathlessness

  • Weakness and fatigue

  • Increased sweating

  • High heart rate (Tachycardia)

  • Deep breathing

  • Faster breathing (Tachypnea)

  • Unintentional weight loss

  • Pale skin 

  • Fever or chills 

  • Heart murmur- an abnormal sound of turbulent blood flow through the heart that a healthcare provider can hear through a stethoscope. 



Causes 


The cause of rheumatic heart disease is rheumatic fever. It is an inflammatory condition that damages the connective tissues of joints, skin, brain, and most commonly heart. Over time, the heart valves can become scarred due to prolonged inflammation, hence, their ability to function well is compromised. Since heart valves play a major role in preventing the backflow of blood in the heart, when they do not function well, it can lead to backflow or leakage of blood through the heart valve. 


Strep infections like strep throat, which occur most commonly in children, if left untreated or under-treated can become a source of rheumatic fever. Therefore, if your child is suffering from a recurrent sore throat, you must take them to a healthcare provider.


Diagnosis 


To confirm the diagnosis of rheumatic heart disease, your healthcare provider may perform the following tests. 


1.ECG: This is done by putting leads on your chest and checking the rhythm of your heart.


2. Cardiac MRI: It is an imaging test in which more detailed pictures of heart valves and muscles are visible.


3.Blood tests: Blood tests may be ordered for checking parameters that indicate an infection. They are done to confirm the diagnosis of rheumatic heart disease. 


4. Chest X-ray: The chest X-ray helps in checking the image of the lungs and heart. 


Complications


Rheumatic heart disease can lead to further complications like 


  • Heart failure 

  • Bacterial endocarditis 

  • Complications in pregnancy and delivery 

  • Ruptured heart valve


Conclusion 


Rheumatic heart disease is a condition in which the heart valves are damaged due to rheumatic fever. It may occur after getting infected with an untreated or under-treated streptococcal infection such as strep throat or scarlet fever. As an immune system response, the body damages the heart valves. The common signs and symptoms are cough and breathlessness upon exertion. It may occur after the symptoms of infection have subsided. If your child is suffering from a recurrent sore throat, you must take them to a healthcare provider.


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