Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD) results from chronic damage to the heart valves following one or multiple episodes of rheumatic fever. This condition can lead to a range of serious complications, affecting heart function and overall health. Here are some of the key complications associated with RHD:

1. Heart Valve Damage

  • Details: The inflammation associated with rheumatic fever can cause scarring of the heart valves, leading to stenosis (narrowing of the valve) and/or regurgitation (leakage of the valve). This can impair the ability of the heart to function properly.
  • Specific Impact: The mitral valve is most commonly affected, followed by the aortic valve.

2. Heart Failure

  • Cause: Chronic valve damage may lead to heart failure, a condition where the heart is unable to pump sufficient blood to meet the body’s needs.
  • Symptoms: Includes fatigue, shortness of breath, and swelling in the legs, ankles, and feet.

3. Atrial Fibrillation

  • Explanation: Damage to the heart structure, especially the atria, can lead to atrial fibrillation, an irregular and often rapid heart rate that can increase the risk of stroke, heart failure, and other heart-related complications.
  • Management: Atrial fibrillation requires medical management to control heart rate and prevent stroke through anticoagulation.

4. Stroke

  • Mechanism: Patients with RHD are at increased risk of stroke, primarily due to the potential for blood clots forming in a dilated left atrium, especially if atrial fibrillation is present.
  • Prevention: Anticoagulants are often prescribed to reduce the risk of clot formation.

5. Endocarditis

  • Risk: People with damaged heart valves are at higher risk of endocarditis, an infection of the inner lining of the heart chambers and valves.
  • Precautions: Prophylactic antibiotics may be recommended for certain dental and surgical procedures to prevent endocarditis in high-risk individuals.

6. Pulmonary Hypertension

  • Development: Increased blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries (pulmonary hypertension) can develop due to chronic backflow of blood caused by valve dysfunction, particularly mitral stenosis.
  • Consequences: This condition can lead to right ventricular overload and failure.

7. Complications During Pregnancy

  • Challenges: Pregnancy places additional stress on the heart, and women with RHD may face increased risks during pregnancy, including heart failure, arrhythmias, and potential complications during delivery.
  • Management: Careful monitoring and management by a team of cardiologists and obstetricians are essential for pregnant women with RHD.

8. Reduced Quality of Life

  • Impact: Symptoms like breathlessness, fatigue, and reduced physical capacity can significantly impact daily activities and quality of life.

These complications underscore the importance of early diagnosis and continuous management of rheumatic fever and RHD. Regular follow-up with healthcare providers, adherence to prescribed treatment regimens, and timely surgical interventions when necessary are crucial to managing the disease and preventing these serious complications.

Last Update: June 3, 2024