Rheumatic heart disease is a severe heart complication that develops when strep throat or scarlet fever is not adequately treated. This autoimmune disease is caused by an infection from streptococcus bacteria.
This cardiac disease is common among children and adolescents between 5 and 15 years old. However, in some cases, this can also develop among younger children and adults.
Symptoms of rheumatic heart disease can range from a fever to swollen joints and chest pain. It is important to detect the symptoms of rheumatic heart disease in its earliest stages in order to prevent it from developing into a severe complication.
Having rheumatic heart disease can cause permanent damage to your heart valves. If left untreated, it can lead to heart failure and death.
What are the symptoms of rheumatic heart disease?
People who are diagnosed with rheumatic heart disease experience symptoms at varying levels and at differing degrees.
One primary symptom that may point to one having rheumatic heart disease would be a history of strep infection or rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever usually occurs one to six weeks after a strep throat infection.
The symptoms and signs of rheumatic fever that may develop into rheumatic heart disease include the following:
- Painful and tender joints, especially in the knee, ankle, elbow, and wrists
- Pain in one joint that transfers to another joint
- Red, hot, or swollen joints
- Small, painless bumps beneath the skin that are found in the chest, back, and abdomen
- Chest pain
- Heart murmur
- Flat or slightly raised, painless rash
- Jerky, uncontrollable body movements of arms, legs, and facial muscles
Rheumatic fever can lead to rheumatic heart disease, depending on the valve damage. Common symptoms of rheumatic heart disease include:
- Shortness of breath, during activities or even when lying down
- Chest pain
Not all rheumatic heart diseases are created equal. They can manifest with different complications depending on which valve has been damaged and the level of inflammation.
These are the most commonly diagnosed types of rheumatic heart diseases and the symptoms of rheumatic heart disease:
Mitral valve disease
This occurs when your mitral valve is no longer functioning correctly. Your mitral valve is located on the left side of your heart, between the left atrium and left ventricle. It is in charge of regulating your blood flow from the left atrium to the left ventricle.
A damaged mitral valve leads to a backflow of blood into the left atrium. This will then prevent your left heart from pumping enough oxygen-filled blood. Symptoms of rheumatic heart disease are fatigue and shortness of breath. Mitral valve disease that is left untreated can lead to more severe complications such as heart failure or abnormal heart rhythm.
This is also known as tricuspid valve insufficiency. The tricuspid valve separates your right atrium and right ventricle.
When your tricuspid valve doesn’t properly close, it causes tricuspid regurgitation, which causes the blood to flow back into the right atrium when the right ventricle contracts.
An untreated tricuspid regurgitation can weaken your heart dramatically. It is commonly accompanied by aortic and/or mitral valve disease. This can cause a noticeable swelling in your abdomen, legs, or veins in your neck.
This is a type of arrhythmia by irregular electric impulses in the atria, which causes a rapid increase in heart rate. This heart condition is temporary, but needs treatment. Otherwise, episodes may persist and can lead to a stroke.
These different manifestations of rheumatic heart disease all occur when your heart valves have been permanently damaged by rheumatic fever. Since this cardiac complication is commonly caused by rheumatic fever, the best treatment would be to preventyour rheumatic fever from worsening.
How do the symptoms of rheumatic heart disease lead to diagnosis?
Similar to other health complications, your doctor will ask you to describe how you have been feeling and will take note of your medical history. Most people who are diagnosed with rheumatic heart disease symptoms have had a strep infection.
To properly diagnose that you have strep throat, the doctor may request that you take a throat culture or blood test.
Along with a physical exam, these tests are used to diagnose and confirm the symptoms of rheumatic heart disease.
- Echocardiogram (echo) is a test that makes use of sound waves to check the state of your heart’s chambers and valves. It is an ultrasound transducer that is hovered over the heart area, which will then capture a picture using echo sound waves. An echocardiogram can accurately show whether you have damage in the valve flaps, if there is backflow of blood, if there is fluid surrounding the heart, or if you have heart enlargement. It is a preferred test used by doctors when diagnosing heart valve complications.
- Electrocardiogram (ECG) is a test wherein they attach small sensors to your chest to check electrical activity in your cardiac area. An ECG records the strength and timing of the electrical activity, which can help determine whether there is an abnormal heart rhythm, also known as arrhythmias.
- Chest X-rays are also done to check your lungs and whether your heart is enlarged
- Cardiac Magnetic Resonance Imaging (Cardiac MRI) is another form of imaging test that can capture detailed pictures of your heart. This can provide a more precise imaging of the state of your heart valves and cardiac muscles.
- Blood tests are also usually taken to check whether there are any infections they need to treat.
Recognizing symptoms of rheumatic heart disease will allow your doctor to properly treat your rheumatic heart disease before the damages become irreversible.
Treatments usually entail using antibiotics to treat strep throat infections. In some cases, surgery may be needed to replace or repair a damaged valve. Prevent your symptoms of rheumatic heart disease from worsening, and contact your doctor immediately.
Learn more about rheumatic heart disease, here.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.