ABOUT RHEUMATIC HEART DISEASE
10 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT RHEUMATIC HEART DISEASE (RHD)
1. Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD) is a consequence of Acute Rheumatic Fever (ARF).
2. The risk of RHD is greater with repeated episodes of ARF. Stopping episodes of recurrent ARF can prevent rheumatic heart disease.
3. ARF is caused by infection with the Group A Streptococcus (GAS) bacterium. This usually involves GAS infection in the throat (pharyngitis) or ‘strep throat’.
4. Without antibiotic treatment, throat infection from Group A Streptococcus can cause acute rhematic fever.
5. ARF usually occurs between 5 and 15 years of age.
6. Risk factors include poverty, overcrowding and reduced access to medical care.
7. Acute rheumatic fever can be undiagnosed and this can cause failure to prevent or recognise rheumatic heart disease. Failure to recognise ARF and limited access to healthcare can contribute to the under-diagnosis of ARF.
8. RHD is particularly associated with damage to the valves of the heart. Typically, the damaged heart valve cannot open or shut properly. This interferes with the proper flow of blood through the heart. Without treatment, the damaged valve may continue to deteriorate.
9. Complications include heart failure and stroke due to clots forming in the enlarged heart or in damaged valves.
10. RHD is preventable, but it currently affects over 30 million people worldwide.
The global profile of RHD has increased over the past decade but still remains in the shadow of other communicable diseases such as malaria, HIV and TB, despite being the most common acquired form of cardiovascular disease in children, adolescents and young adults in the world.