Rheumatic Heart Disease: Coping Strategies and Lifestyle Changes

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Rheumatic Heart Disease is an illness caused by rheumatic fever which has been left untreated. Rheumatic fever is a contagious inflammatory disease that starts as a throat infection caused by the streptococcus pyogenes bacterium. This infection will get worse over time if not given proper treatment. It will later cause your immune system to mistakenly attack healthy tissues, particularly in the heart, brain, skin, and joints. The patient will experience inflammation and pain as a result.

The continuous inflammation in these tissues will eventually result in huge damage to the heart valve. It is where Rheumatic Heart Disease begins as the heart will no longer function properly. This illness usually affects children who experience recurring and neglected strep infections.

Signs and Symptoms of Rheumatic Heart Disease

Before the onset of Rheumatic Heart Disease, people experience the symptoms of rheumatic fever first. Below is the list of signs you should keep in mind:

  • High fever
  • Inflamed and painful joints
  • Unexplained nodules
  • Rashes on the chest, back, and abdomen
  • Shortness of breath
  • Muscle twitching on the face, arms, and legs (chorea)
  • Fatigue

The onset of Rheumatic Heart Disease occurs when you experience the following symptoms:

  • Swelling across different parts of the body
  • Difficulty breathing especially during activity and when lying down
  • Irregular heartbeats
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue

Consult a doctor as soon as you experience the symptoms mentioned above as it is important to treat strep infections as soon as possible. It will help slow down the progression of the fever to Rheumatic Heart Disease.

Who Usually Affected

Children who frequently acquire Rheumatic Fever and live in low-income households usually get Rheumatic Heart Disease. It is because most children and their parents don’t have enough means to pay a doctor to treat the illness. Although Rheumatic Heart Disease has a low percentage in the US, it is more common in developing and low-income countries.

Pregnant women also tend to get Rheumatic heart disease. It’s why consulting a doctor regularly is an important part of pregnancy.

Diagnosed and Other Methods

There are various ways to diagnose Rheumatic Heart Disease. The most common ways are physical tests and medical history assessments.

Other methods include:

Electrocardiogram (ECG)

You might have watched different movies that show how doctors perform ECG on a patient. To further explain this matter, ECG detects the electrical activity in the heart, particularly its strength and rhythm. It will help doctors determine any abnormality or damage in the heart and plan the most appropriate treatment for the illness.

Echocardiogram (Echo)

This is another common method wherein it utilizes soundwaves to check the condition of the heart’s valves and chambers. Based on the soundwaves, it will show any abnormality or damage to the heart such as enlargement, blood backflow, and leaky valves.

Cardiac MRI

This method takes images of the heart so that doctors can have a precise look at the heart and determine the damage in the heart valves, chambers, tissues, and muscles.

Chest X-Ray

Doctors may use this method to take a look at your heart if it is abnormally enlarged.

Blood Tests

Doctors may also conduct blood tests to look for signs of infection and inflammation in your body.

Medication and Treatment

Unfortunately, there is no cure for Rheumatic Heart Disease as the damage is irreversible. In severe cases, doctors require surgery to repair and replace the damaged tissues in the heart.

Other medications may be required to treat heart abnormalities caused by Rheumatic Heart Disease. Treatments to ease inflammation such as aspirin, steroids, and non-steroidal medications are a few examples.

Prevention and Tips

Since Rheumatic Heart Disease is incurable and irreversible, it’s best to follow measures to prevent yourself from getting the disease. Doctors advise treating any signs of recurring Rheumatic Fever as soon as possible before it gets worse. It can be treated with the appropriate antibiotic and guidance from a doctor.

In most cases, people with a history of Rheumatic Fever are given a certain antibiotic for a long period. It is to prevent the recurrence of the disease and to lower the chances of getting Rheumatic Heart Disease.

What Will Happen if Left Untreated?

If left untreated, Rheumatic Heart Disease will cause further complications. It may include:

  • Ruptured heart valve - This refers to severe damage to the heart valve and requires emergency surgery.
  • Heart failure - The inflammation in the heart weakens the heart and causes its failure to pump blood properly throughout the body.
  • Bacterial endocarditis - This refers to the infection in the lining of the heart caused by severe damage to the heart valve.
  • Pregnancy and delivery complications - Pregnant women who are suffering from Rheumatic Heart Disease may experience complications. This is because as women get pregnant, their blood volume increases. The more blood volume there is, the more pressure is put on the damaged heart as it struggles to pump blood throughout the body.

Final Thoughts

Rheumatic Heart Disease is not reversible and it can affect children of all ages. That’s why it is better to prioritize one’s health and be attentive to any symptoms of Rheumatic Fever than to have regrets after long periods of denial. After all, prevention is always the best among any medications and treatments.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Long Will People With Rheumatic Heart Disease Live?

Although Rheumatic Heart Disease is a serious condition, people may still live a good quality of life as long as the disease is properly treated. This may help slow the progress of the disease and may prevent complications.

When Should I Consult A Doctor?

You should see your doctor if you experience any of the symptoms mentioned earlier.

How Is Heart Valve Replacement Done?

If your heart valve is unrepairable due to severe damage, a heart replacement will be done. In this method, your doctor will replace the damaged valve in your heart and replace it with an artificial one. In some cases, doctors may replace your damaged valve with one of your healthy ones. This method is called the Ross procedure, and it’s more like swapping one tissue for another.

How Is Heart Valve Repair Done?

In a heart valve repair surgery, your doctor will insert a catheter into a small incision in your chest and helps widen the valve by inflating a balloon inside it. It will help improve the blood flow in the heart.

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