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What is Rheumatic Heart Disease? What are the symptoms of Rheumatic Heart Disease?

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What is Rheumatic Heart Disease? What are the symptoms of Rheumatic Heart Disease?

Rheumatic heart disease (RHD) is a chronic condition that affects the heart valves. It is caused by rheumatic fever, which is an inflammatory disease that can develop after an untreated or inadequately treated streptococcal infection, such as strep throat or scarlet fever. RHD primarily affects children and young adults in developing countries, where access to healthcare and antibiotics may be limited.

The development of RHD begins with an episode of rheumatic fever, which is an autoimmune response to the streptococcal infection. The body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own tissues, particularly the heart, joints, skin, and brain. If the heart is affected, the valves can become inflamed and damaged, leading to RHD.

The symptoms of RHD can vary depending on the severity of the disease and the specific valves affected. Some common symptoms include:

1. Shortness of breath: As the heart valves become damaged, the heart’s ability to pump blood efficiently is compromised. This can lead to a feeling of breathlessness, especially during physical activity or when lying down.

2. Fatigue: The heart has to work harder to pump blood through the damaged valves, which can result in fatigue and a lack of energy.

3. Chest pain: Some individuals with RHD may experience chest pain or discomfort, especially during physical exertion or when the heart is under stress.

4. Palpitations: Irregular heartbeats or a sensation of the heart pounding or racing can occur in individuals with RHD.

5. Swollen ankles and feet: As the heart struggles to pump blood effectively, fluid can accumulate in the lower extremities, leading to swelling.

6. Fainting or dizziness: Reduced blood flow to the brain can cause episodes of fainting or dizziness.

7. Joint pain and swelling: Rheumatic fever can cause inflammation in the joints, leading to pain, swelling, and stiffness.

In addition to these symptoms, individuals with RHD may also experience complications such as infective endocarditis, which is an infection of the heart valves, or heart failure, which occurs when the heart is unable to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs.

Diagnosing RHD typically involves a combination of medical history, physical examination, and diagnostic tests. A healthcare provider may listen to the heart with a stethoscope to detect any abnormal heart sounds or murmurs, which can indicate valve damage. Additional tests such as echocardiography, electrocardiography, and chest X-rays may be performed to assess the structure and function of the heart.

Treatment for RHD aims to manage symptoms, prevent complications, and reduce the risk of further valve damage. This often involves a combination of medications, such as antibiotics to prevent recurrent streptococcal infections, diuretics to reduce fluid buildup, and medications to manage heart rhythm abnormalities. In severe cases, surgical intervention may be necessary to repair or replace damaged heart valves.

Preventing RHD is crucial, especially in populations at high risk. This can be achieved through early diagnosis and treatment of streptococcal infections with appropriate antibiotics. Additionally, individuals with a history of rheumatic fever should receive long-term antibiotic prophylaxis to prevent recurrent infections and the development of RHD.

In conclusion, rheumatic heart disease is a chronic condition that affects the heart valves and is caused by rheumatic fever. The symptoms of RHD can include shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain, palpitations, swollen ankles and feet, fainting or dizziness, and joint pain and swelling. Early diagnosis, appropriate treatment of streptococcal infections, and long-term antibiotic prophylaxis are crucial in preventing the development and progression of RHD.

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