Rheumatic heart disease: Symptoms, causes and prevention

Abhikriti Suyal

Most of us generally take a sore throat very lightly, thinking it will get better in a few days. But what if it’s not as simple as it seems? Sometimes, a recurring, uncomplicated throat infection could be hinting towards a much serious heart complication – Rheumatic heart disease (RHD). 

Are you wondering if it is it even possible for a throat and heart condition to be related? Well, it is. Let’s help you understand how.

Rheumatic heart disease causes   

Rheumatic heart disease is caused because of rheumatic fever. An inflammatory reaction caused by infection with group A streptococcus (GAS) leads to rheumatic fever. In fact, these bacteria are the culprit behind conditions like strep throat and scarlet fever. A rheumatic fever directly harms connective tissue in your body, especially in the heart. So, RHD occurs when the heart valves are permanently damaged by rheumatic fever. It is seen most commonly in people under 25 years of age.

What are the symptoms of rheumatic heart disease?

Rheumatic heart disease symptoms depend on two factors – extent and location of the heart damage. Generally, you will experience symptoms of rheumatic fever nearly two weeks after the onset of an untreated strep throat infection. 

  • Fever
  • Painful joints
  • Fatigue
  • Chorea (Jerky uncontrollable body movements)
  • Nodules under the skin near joints 
  • A rash consisting of pink rings 
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling of the stomach, hands or feet
  • Rapid or irregular heart beat

The possible complications of rheumatic heart disease       

Surprisingly, this heart disease can cause serious lifetime heart damage, which can multiply your risk of stroke or blood clots:

  • Arrhythmia –  Abnormal heartbeat
  • Atrial fibrillation – Abnormal heartbeat in the upper parts of the heart, preventing normal blood flow
  • Heart failure – Heart doesn’t pump blood properly

Who is at risk of rheumatic heart disease?

Comparatively, some people are at higher risk of rheumatic heart disease due to the following factors:

  • Not taking preventive measures to treat the infection from strep bacteria
  • Experiencing repeated strep throat infections 
  • Children living in overcrowded or unhygienic places

Is there a way for prevention of rheumatic heart disease?      

Absolutely YES. Here is a list of some preventive measures:

  1. Antibodies –  Typically, you should begin by treating the root cause responsible for the condition. 
  2. Adhere to good hygiene practices –  Avoid contracting or spreading the GAS bacteria by washing your hands regularly, especially after coughing or sneezing and before cooking or eating.
Washing hands

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Abhikriti Suyal