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Definition of Rheumatic Heart Diseases
Rheumatic Heart Disease is damage to the valves of the heart as a consequence of rheumatic fever, which develops as a complication of untreated or undertreated strep throat.
Streptococcal bacteria attack the heart valves, most commonly the mitral and aortic valves, which can leave them scarred and deformed.
Rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease are now uncommon as antibotic medications so successfully treat strep infections involving the throat.
In the 1950s rheumatic heart disease was the leading cardiovascular cause of disability and death among American adults.
Today, rheumatic heart disease is much less of a threat though still affects about 2 million Americans each year, about 3,500 of whom die as a result.
Signs and Symptoms
Doctors may suspect rheumatic heart disease as the cause when there is a recent history of sore throat or strep throat in combination with symptoms that suggest autoimmune or inflammatory disease, such as inflamed joints, and of cardiac insufficiency, such as dyspnea (shortness of breath).
Echocardiogram or magnetic resonance imaging (mri) allows the cardiologist to visualize and assess the heart’s valves, structure, and function.
Treatment for rheumatic heart disease may involve medications to treat secondary cardiovascular conditions such as arrhythmias and heart failure, and surgical repair or replacement of damaged valves.
People who have rheumatic heart disease are vulnerable to subsequent infections and require antibiotic prophylaxis before invasive diagnostic and therapeutic procedures, and with infections such as pharyngitis, to prevent endocarditis.