Rheumatic Heart Disease

Rheumatic heart disease is caused by a condition called rheumatic fever and can occur after having strep throat with symptoms that may include aching of the joints, fever, and fatigue. One way to avoid this condition is by treating strep throat promptly with antibiotics. Rheumatic fever can cause damage to the heart valves leading to congestive heart disease. The result is enlargement of the aorta where the organ has difficulty pumping the blood to other organs in the body. Diseased valves of the aorta can also be caused from other conditions such as high blood pressure, congenital defects, infection, scar tissue, and narrowing of the arteries. Signs to look for include swelling of legs and ankles and shortness of breath. Treatment includes rest, heart healthy diet, low impact exercise, and medication. When the damage is severe a heart transplant is a last resort option.
Bacteria called Group A Streptococcus that causes strep throat should be treated promptly with antibiotics to avoid complications that can lead to rheumatic heart disease. Sore throats should be monitored especially in children and when accompanied with a fever. After a person has had strep throat there can be complications even when treatment seems to be successful. Some of the signs to look for that may indicate problems caused from streptococcus are swollen joints especially in the knees, ankles, elbows, and wrists. If these signs appear a person should be checked for Rheumatic Fever. A person who has been diagnosed with an illness will be able to cope much better if he or she learns to trust in God. Being sick can cause fear and anxiety but God can bring peace in the midst of any storm. “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise Him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.” (Psalm 42:11)

The inflammation caused by rheumatic fever can lead to inflammation of cardiac valves. Damage to the valves can eventually cause congestive heart disease. Damage to the aorta causes weakness and inhibits the organs ability to do the job necessary to provide the body with oxygen and nutrients. To compensate for a weakened aorta pressure increases causing enlargement and the organ becoming stiff and thick. This can lead to problems with other major organs. The effect on the kidneys causes fluid to build up causing the entire body to become congested.

The symptoms of heart failure include shortness of breath, coughing, and wheezing caused by fluid in the lungs; swelling and weight gain caused from kidney problems; dizziness, fatigue, and weakness caused from decreased blood and oxygen to the brain; and rapid or irregular heartbeat. Rheumatic heart disease can become worse if a person smokes or drinks alcohol. Being overweight can make the condition worse because it puts more strain upon the aorta and other organs.

When a person starts experiencing symptoms that can indicate an internal problem with major organs a doctor will probably want to run some blood tests to find out if congestive heart disease is the cause. Blood tests can evaluate how much oxygen is in the blood by looking at hemoglobin counts to find out if a person is anemic, check kidney function, and cholesterol levels. There is also a blood test that can find the presence of a substance called natriuretic peptide. Natriuretic peptide levels that are high can indicate cardiac failure. A chest x-ray will show the size of the heart and show any fluid build-up in the lungs. Other tests that can help a doctor to make a diagnoses include an echocardiogram, electrocardiogram, and a cardiac catheterization. An echocardiogram shows the movement of the aorta; an electrocardiogram shows the electrical impulses; and a cardiac catheterization will show blockages of the arteries.

Other conditions that can make a person at higher risk for cardiac problems include high blood pressure, diabetes, coronary artery disease, high cholesterol and triglycerides, obesity, and sedentary lifestyle. In order to minimize the problems associated with rheumatic heart disease a person should adopt healthy lifestyle habits such as regular exercise, eating healthy, losing extra pounds, and have regular checkups for blood pressure and cholesterol levels. One of the important things to remember for cardiac health is to limit sodium intake. More fluid retention causes swelling and makes breathing harder.

Medication is very important for a person who has high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and congestive heart disease. Other prescription medicines that help those with cardiac failure include ace inhibitors, beta blockers, diuretics, and vasodilators. People who have cardiac problems should avoid taking some medications. Some of these include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories, antiarrhythmic agents, calcium channel blockers, antacids that contain salt, and decongestants. Activities that require lifting or pulling should be avoided for those who have cardiac disease. Another important thing to do that can help cardiac patients is to remember to get a flu and pneumonia vaccine every year.

Treatment choices for people who have diseases associated with the valves of the aorta include surgery. One of these is called infarct exclusion surgery; this is a procedure that removes scar tissue from damaged valves. Removing damaged tissue can help the aorta to function better. A heart transplant is an option for those who have severe damage when there are not any other options. After transplant a person must be on anti-rejection drugs and the patient needs to have ongoing care and check-ups. Symptoms indicative of problems with transplant surgery and possible rejection may include weight gain, difficulty breathing, fever, and fatigue. Let a doctor know if sore throat, cough, cold sores, body aches, or other signs of infection may be present. Any changes even as minor as a reoccurring headache should be brought to a doctor’s attention after transplant surgery.