There are several heart conditions that may affect your child. Some of them are fatal and others mild and treatable. One of these conditions is the rheumatic heart disease.
What is rheumatic heart disease?
It is a condition whereby permanent damage of heart valves occurs after a prolonged or repeated attack by rheumatic fever. It is the most serious type of rheumatic fever. Rheumatic fever is caused by bacteria called streptococcus. It mostly occurs in childhood and may also damage the muscles and lining of the heart. Rheumatic heart disease makes the heart work too hard to pump blood and this often ends up in congestive heart failure.
Causes of rheumatic heart disease
It starts by a strep throat that is caused by group A streptococcus bacteria. The bacteria have a protein that is similar to that of some body tissues. Therefore cells of the immune system that usually attack the bacterium turn to the body tissues and start treating them as though they were infectious agents. This mostly affects tissues of the heart, joints, skin and the central nervous system. This reaction often results in inflammation.
Symptoms of rheumatic heart disease
Symptoms usually occur 1-5 weeks after your child has been infected with the bacteria. It starts as a fever i.e. rheumatic fever. The most common symptoms include: fever, weight loss, fatigue, stomach pains, joint inflammation- tenderness, redness and swelling of multiple joints especially in the knees and ankles, small round and hard bumps may occur under the skin, a rash that is pink in color appearing all over the body and a change in the patient’s neuromuscular movements. Other less common symptoms include: chest pain, heart palpitations, fainting, breathing problems when lying down and breathlessness on exertion.
Diagnosis of rheumatic heart disease
The following tests may need to be taken to establish whether your child has rheumatic heart disease: medical history including past infections, physical examination, blood tests to check for the presence of the bacteria, chest x-ray to check for heart enlargement and fluid on the lungs, an electrocardiogram to check for any abnormal heart rhythm and echocardiogram to check the heart valves for any damage or infection.
Treatment for rheumatic heart disease
Prevention is the best medicine. Administering antibiotics to treat the initial bacteria infection can stop acute fever from developing. If the heart has inflammation your child may be placed on complete bed rest. Medications to prevent heart failure and treat the infection are administered. If heart damage has already occurred surgery can be done to repair or for replacement.
Management of rheumatic heart disease complications
Proper management reduces complications. This is done by taking your child for influenza vaccinations, regular heart check ups, urgent treatment for any strep infections, good dental hygiene, administering antibiotics before any surgical procedure to prevent bacterial infections and good prenatal care since pregnancy often makes rheumatic heart disease more serious. Observe your child for any of these symptoms and seek medical help early enough. Ensure that you child takes the whole dose of antibiotics when being treated for infections. This will save you several visits to the pediatrician.