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What is Rheumatic Heart Disease?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 04 October 2018
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2018
    Conjecture Corporation
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Rheumatic heart disease is a condition that can take place when an individual experiences recurring episodes of rheumatic fever. Normally, the condition involves the development of scar tissue in the heart valves, as well as changes in the myocardium. Both these changes to the heart can make it more difficult for the organ to pump blood efficiently, which in turn places additional stress on the heart.

In order to understand how rheumatic heart disease comes about, it is important to know what happens when the individual experiences an episode of rheumatic fever. The fever itself is an inflammatory disease that manifests itself as strep in the throat. The infection in the throat can work through the connective tissue in the body, eventually making its way to the joints, the skin, and even the heart and the brain. The best known treatment for rheumatic fever is the use of antibiotics to kill the infection.

Repeated episodes of rheumatic fever can cause damage to any of the organs that are reached through the connective tissue. In the case of the heart, the infection can cause the heart valves to thicken, a condition which makes the enlarged valves work less efficiently. One of the more common rheumatic heart disease symptoms is shortness of breath, even after the fever has been successfully brought under control.

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In terms of various types of symptoms, the shortness of breath is often the only manifestation that the heart has been damaged in any way. However, some people also find that they feel lightheaded from time to time, especially after becoming fatigued. The shortness of breath may be more or less constant, or seem to disappear for a period of time, then return when the individual attempts to become more physically active.

When it comes to rheumatic heart disease treatment, the most effective approach is to contain the rheumatic fever as soon as possible. Doing so minimizes the chances of the infection ever affecting the heart in the first place. Administering antibiotics at the first signs of the fever will often prevent the spread of the infection through the connective tissue, and protect the joints from harm, as well as the heart and the brain.

However, if the rheumatic heart disease has progressed to the point that the ability of the organ to pump blood is seriously impaired, surgery is often the best option. Depending on the severity of the condition, the enlarged valves can sometimes be repaired. The worst cases will sometimes require that the damaged valves be replaced altogether.

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Mykol
Post 4

What are the most common rheumatic heart disease causes? Is this something that happens after someone is born, or is it congenital?

I know some people are born with heart defects and wondered if rheumatic heart disease is something someone can be born with.

golf07
Post 3

@SarahSon-- I don't know a whole lot about rheumatic fever, but do know that it still happens. I have a niece who had to have surgery for treatment for rheumatic heart disease.

There were many times she had strep throat as a child, and if this isn't completely treated with antibiotics, it can result in rheumatic fever. What often happens though, as it did for her, is the symptoms don't show up for several years.

She had to have surgery to repair a heart valve because of this fever. I don't think this happens as often as it used to, but there are still several cases of it each year.

SarahSon
Post 2

It has been a long time since I heard of someone having rheumatic fever. Is this something that is very common today?

When I was younger, I remember a boy in my class missing out on a lot of school because he had rheumatic fever heart disease. That is the only person I have ever known who had this, and wondered if this is something that happens much anymore.

bagley79
Post 1

My grandma had rheumatic fever as a child and had symptoms for the rest of her life. She would get frequent heart palpitations and would get winded easily.

She was always told there really wasn't anything they could do about it. As far as I know, she only had this fever one time, but had chronic rheumatic heart disease because of it.

Because of this she always thought she would die young from heart problems. Congestive heart failure was the cause of her death, but she lived to be almost 90 years old.

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