About Rheumatic Heart Disease

Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD) is a serious cardiovascular condition resulting from inadequately treated or recurrent episodes of rheumatic fever, an inflammatory disease caused by streptococcal throat infections. Common in childhood, untreated streptococcal infections can lead to an immune system response that damages heart valves, causing RHD. This chronic condition predominantly affects children and young adults in socioeconomically disadvantaged regions with limited access to healthcare. RHD can lead to valve stenosis or regurgitation, impairing blood flow and increasing the risk of complications such as heart failure. Prevention involves prompt treatment of streptococcal infections with antibiotics, emphasizing the importance of early detection and intervention to mitigate the impact of Rheumatic Heart Disease on cardiovascular health.

Symptoms Of Rheumatic Heart Disease

  • Symptoms of Rheumatic Heart Disease 
  • Fatigue: Persistent tiredness and reduced stamina.
  • Shortness of Breath: Difficulty breathing, especially during physical activity.
  • Chest Pain: Discomfort or pain in the chest.
  • Palpitations: Awareness of irregular, rapid, or fluttering heartbeats.
  • Swollen Joints: Inflammation and pain in multiple joints.
  • Fever: Recurrent episodes of fever, often associated with rheumatic fever.
  • Skin Rash: Red, raised patches on the skin.
  • Weight Loss: Unexplained loss of weight. 

Causes Of Rheumatic Heart Disease 

  • Untreated Streptococcal Infections: Failure to promptly treat streptococcal throat infections increases the risk.
  • Recurrent Rheumatic Fever: Repeated episodes of rheumatic fever heighten the likelihood of heart valve damage.
  • Genetic Susceptibility: Certain individuals may be genetically predisposed to developing rheumatic heart disease.
  • Poor Access to Healthcare: Limited access to healthcare, prevalent in socioeconomically disadvantaged regions, contributes to delayed treatment and increased risk.
  • Environmental Factors: Living in crowded conditions and exposure to streptococcal infections in close quarters elevate the risk of developing rheumatic heart disease.
  • Age and Gender: More common in children and young adults, with a higher prevalence in females. 

Diagnosis Of The Rheumatic Heart Disease 

  • Throat Culture: Identifying streptococcal infections that may precede rheumatic fever.
  • Blood Tests: Detecting markers of inflammation and assessing antibody levels.
  • Echocardiography: Imaging the heart to visualize valve structure and function.
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG): Recording the heart's electrical activity and identifying abnormalities.
  • Chest X-ray: Providing images of the heart and lungs, assessing heart size and shape.
  • Jones Criteria: Clinical criteria evaluating symptoms and evidence of preceding streptococcal infection.
  • MRI or CT Scan: Advanced imaging techniques for detailed assessment of heart structures.
  • Physical Examination: Assessing symptoms, joint involvement, and signs of heart failure. 

Treatment Of Rheumatic Heart Disease 

  • Antibiotics: Administered to treat streptococcal infections and prevent recurrent rheumatic fever episodes, reducing the risk of further heart valve damage.
  • Anti-inflammatory Medications: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or corticosteroids may be prescribed to reduce inflammation and manage symptoms during acute rheumatic fever episodes.
  • Anticoagulants: Given to prevent blood clots in individuals with atrial fibrillation or mechanical heart valves, reducing the risk of stroke.
  • Valve Repair or Replacement Surgery: Surgical intervention to repair damaged heart valves or replace severely affected valves with biological or mechanical prosthetic valves, restoring normal blood flow.
  • Balloon Valvuloplasty: Minimally invasive procedure to widen narrowed heart valves using a balloon catheter, improving blood flow.
  • Percutaneous Valve Repair: Innovative catheter-based techniques to repair damaged heart valves without open-heart surgery, suitable for select patients.
  • Lifestyle Modifications: Adopting heart-healthy habits, including a balanced diet, regular exercise, smoking cessation, and limiting alcohol intake to support cardiovascular health.
  • Regular Monitoring: Ongoing follow-up appointments with healthcare professionals to monitor heart function, assess valve health, and adjust treatment plans as needed. 

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Frequently Asked Questions

Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD) is a cardiovascular condition resulting from untreated or recurrent streptococcal infections, particularly rheumatic fever. These infections trigger an immune response that damages heart valves, leading to long-term complications.

Symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain, palpitations, swollen joints, fever, skin rash, and unexplained weight loss. Prompt medical attention is crucial if these symptoms arise, especially after a streptococcal infection.

Diagnosis involves a combination of throat cultures, blood tests, echocardiography, electrocardiogram, chest X-rays, and clinical evaluation based on the Jones Criteria, assessing symptoms and previous streptococcal infections.

Treatment includes antibiotics to address streptococcal infections, anti-inflammatory medications, anticoagulants, valve repair or replacement surgery, balloon valvuloplasty, and lifestyle modifications to support cardiovascular health.

Prevention involves prompt treatment of streptococcal infections with antibiotics and regular follow-ups. Prognosis varies, but early intervention can prevent complications. Lifestyle changes and adherence to treatment plans significantly improve long-term outcomes for individuals with Rheumatic Heart Disease.

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