What You Need to Know About Rheumatic Heart Disease

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Rheumatic heart disease is a chronic illness that can be prevented when detected early. It is a type of disease that involves one or more valves in the heart after the person has experienced acute rheumatic fever.

Acute Rheumatic Fever

Rheumatic fever is known to be caused by Group A Streptococcus or GAS. These bacteria cause infections which are spread through contact with mucus and sores on a person’s skin. The types of infections range from mild to life-threatening. The most common non-invasive infections are called strep throat or pharyngitis and impetigo. While for invasive infections, pneumonia, streptococcal toxic shock syndrome, necrotizing fasciitis, and bacteremia are the most common.

Acute rheumatic fever is one of the complications from infection of GAS. Although rheumatic fever isn’t common in Singapore, children who have had cases of strep throat and didn’t receive proper treatment are at risk of having rheumatic fever. This is an illness that affects connective tissues in the heart, brain, joints and skin. It often damages the heart valves which can be permanent. Without proper treatment from a cardiologist in Singapore, the person could have congestive heart failure.

Symptoms of Rheumatic Fever

You should take the child to the nearest hospital in Singapore if you notice the following symptoms: fever, fatigue, stomach pains, weight loss, rashes or small nodules under the skin, joint inflammation, and changes in the neuromuscular movements. Some of the symptoms that you may encounter before you visit the heart screening doctor from Singapore may be mistaken for dengue, but don’t administer medications by yourself. These signs usually appear within one to five weeks after the person is infected with the Streptococcus bacteria. Strep throat should be treated as a first step in preventing rheumatic heart diseases. Take the child to your family doctor so he/she can prescribe antibiotics.

Rheumatic Heart Disease

Rheumatic heart disease or RHD develops when one or more valves in the heart are damaged by rheumatic fever. The damage or inflammation is called valvulitis. In most cases, the damage is found in the aortic valve, mitral valve or both. Why are these valves important? The heart valves act as doors to the chambers in the heart. If these are damaged, they cannot open or close properly, so the blood will leak into the other chambers. In other cases, the result could be myocarditis or the inflammation of the heart muscles or pericarditis or the inflammation of the heart membranes.

Symptoms of RHD

The symptoms of rheumatic heart disease sometimes don’t show up right away after the child has experienced rheumatic fever. There are cases in Singapore where the disease began showing signs 10 or more years after the fever. There are no visible symptoms, but if you notice that your child is having difficulty breathing, you should take him/her to the best cardiologist in Singapore. The symptoms include shortness of breath especially during physically strenuous activities or when he/she is lying down, chest pain and swelling from myocarditis or pericarditis, and joint pain and inflammation.

Diagnosing RHD

The symptoms are so subtle, however, that the cardiologist in Singapore has to perform other examinations to confirm suspicions. During the heart screening, the heart doctor will interview you about the child’s medical history. He/she will look into incidents such as strep infections and sore throats. Then he/she will listen to the child’s heartbeat using the stethoscope. The cardiologist might not be able to detect the signs right away so make sure you get a second opinion if you suspect something may be wrong. The Singapore cardiologist might detect a heart murmur, the first sign that the child has RHD. Then the doctor will check for inflammation or swelling in the joints. A throat culture and some blood tests will also be performed. Next, the heart doctor in Singapore will recommend other heart screening tests such as chest X-ray, electrocardiogram, echocardiogram, and magnetic resonance imaging of the child’s heart.

Sore Throat and Strep Throat

Sore throat is a term used for any pain or discomfort experienced in the throat area. Strep throat on the other hand is the name for a specific bacterial infection of the tonsils and throat. One of the symptoms of strep throat is sore throat. When the child has sore throat he/she will have fever, chills, vomiting and nausea, body pain, cough, headache, earache, nasal congestion, loss of appetite, swollen tonsils and throat, tender lymph nodes on the neck, and patchy areas on the tonsils. Strep throat has the following symptoms: sore throat, difficulty swallowing, sneezing and coughing, swollen lymph nodes, spots on the tonsils, spots at the back of the throat or at the roof of the mouth, swollen tonsils, and fever. Symptoms from both illnesses are nearly similar, so don’t take chances especially if your child often has sore throat.

Treatment of RHD

The child should be given proper care if he/she has sore throat, strep throat or rheumatic fever. To treat acute rheumatic fever, the doctor will prescribe antibiotics to stop the strep infection. Other medications will be recommended for the inflammation of the heart and joints. In mild cases, aspirin is given but others require steroids. When the fever is gone, the patient is advised to take penicillin or other antibiotics so that symptoms don’t reappear years later. There is a chance after all for rheumatic fever to recur.

Antibiotic treatment can last for up to 5 years. For severe involuntary movements, the patient will need to take anticonvulsant medications. Anti-inflammatory medicine such as aspirin, naproxen and corticosteroid are used to lessen the pain and swelling. Another thing to watch out for when preventing the recurrence of rheumatic fever is the infection of the heart valves or the heart’s lining called bacterial endocarditis.

If there is damage in one or more valves, the specialists will recommend the child to a heart surgeon to replace or repair the valves. The heart surgeon will assess the damage on the valves based on the heart screening tests previously done.

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