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.
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.