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Heart Disease

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Heart Disease 

Rheumatic Heart Disease

Rheumatic Heart Disease

From Loyota University Health System

What is Rheumatic Heart Disease:

Rheumatic heart disease is a condition in which permanent damage to heart valves is caused from rheumatic fever. The heart valve is damaged by a disease process that begins with a strep throat caused by streptococcus A bacteria, that may eventually cause rheumatic fever.

Rheumatic fever can affect many connective tissues of the body especially those of the heart, joints, brain or skin. Anyone can get acute rheumatic fever, but it usually occurs in children five to 15 years old. It is a rare but potentially life-threatening disease, a complication of untreated strep throat. Because of antibiotics, rheumatic fever is now rare in developed countries. However, in recent years, it has begun to make a comeback in the United States, particularly among children living in poor inner-city neighborhoods.

The greatest danger from rheumatic fever is the damage it can do to the heart. In more than half of all cases, rheumatic fever scars the valves of the heart, forcing it to work harder to pump blood. Over a period of months or even years, particularly if the disease strikes again, damage to the heart can lead to the serious condition of rheumatic heart disease.

In rheumatic heart disease, the damaged heart valve either does not completely close or completely open. Sometimes damage to heart valves is not immediately noticeable, but eventually damaged heart valves can cause serious, even disabling, problems. These problems depend on the severity of the damage and on which heart valve is affected. The most advanced condition is congestive heart failure.

What are Symptoms of Rheumatic Fever:
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:

  • fever
  • red, raised, lattice-like rash, usually on the chest, back and abdomen
  • swollen, tender, red and extremely painful joints particularly the knees, ankles, elbows or wrists
  • nodules, or small bony protuberances, over the swollen joints
  • sometimes, weakness and shortness of breath
  • sometimes, uncontrolled movements of arms, legs or facial muscles

Can Rheumatic Heart Disease be Prevented:
The best defense against rheumatic heart disease is to prevent rheumatic fever from ever occurring by treating a streptococcus A bacteria with penicillin or other antibiotics. Treatment can usually stop acute rheumatic fever from developing. 

People who have already had attacks of rheumatic fever are more susceptible to further attacks and the risk of heart damage. They may be given continuous monthly or daily antibiotic treatment, perhaps even for life. They also are given a different antibiotic when they undergo dental or surgical procedures that may increase the risk of bacterial endocarditis.

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