Rheumatic Fever and Heart Disease
Before antibiotic medicines became widely used, rheumatic fever was the largest cause of valve disease. Rheumatic fever is a condition that is a complication of untreated strep throat. Strep throat is caused by a group A streptococcal infection found in the throat.
Rheumatic fever can damage body tissues by causing them to swell, but its greatest danger lies in the damage it can do to your heart. More than half of the time, rheumatic fever leads to scarring of the heart’s valves. This scarring can narrow the valve and make it harder for the valve to open properly or to close completely. In turn, your heart has to work harder to pump blood to the rest of your body. This valve damage can lead to a condition called rheumatic heart disease, which, in time, can lead to congestive heart failure.
Rheumatic fever is not an infection itself, rather the result of an untreated strep infection. When the body senses the strep infection, it sends antibodies to fight it. Sometimes, these antibodies attack the tissues of joints or the heart instead. If the antibodies attack the heart, they can cause the heart valves to swell, which can lead to scarring of the valve “doors.” (The doors are called leaflets.) The scarred leaflets make it harder for the valve to either open or close properly, or both.
The symptoms of rheumatic fever usually begin 1 to 6 weeks after a strep infection. The symptoms are fever, joint pain or swelling in your wrists, elbows, knees, or ankles. Small bumps under the skin over elbows or knees (called nodules). Maybe a small raised red rash on the chest, back, or stomach, experience stomach pain or feeling less hungry. Weakness, shortness of breath, or feeling very tired
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