Paediatric Services

When Sore throats lead to heart damage

Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD) is a group of short-term (acute) and long-term (chronic) heart disorders that can occur as a result of rheumatic fever. One common result of rheumatic fever is heart valve damage which may lead to a valve disorder.

Dr Betty Gikonyo, a Paediatric Cardiologist says that RHD is a preventable disease that mainly affects children between the ages of 5 and 15. Even though older children and adults have also been known to contract the fever, it is commoner in girls. Rheumatic fever is a relatively serious illness that, if left untreated, can cause stroke, permanent damage to the heart and death.

Rheumatic fever is one of the complications associated with strep throat, a bacterial infection that makes the throat feel sore and scratchy. Only a small portion of sore throats are the result of strep throat. If untreated, strep throat can sometimes cause complications such as kidney inflammation and rheumatic fever.

Signs and symptoms

A strep test is done to diagnose the cause of a sore throat on the basis of a physical exam and lab tests. During the exam, your doctor will look for signs and symptoms of strep throat such as fever and enlarged lymph nodes, and will probably use a tongue depressor to get a good look at the throat and tonsils.

Rheumatic fever in some children sets off an abnormal immune reaction that damages heart valves. This reaction has symptoms that are vague and easily confused with other conditions. People affected often look and feel healthy again once their outward symptoms are resolved, but with further streptococcal infections, the rheumatic fever returns, worsening their heart damage. RHD is often missed in its early stages.

According to Dr. Betty Gikonyo, a leading Pediatric Cardiologist ,Rheumatic Heart Disease is a disease of damaged heart valves, which destroys the heart. It is the leading cause of cardiac morbidity in children. RHD can be prevented by early treatment of rheumatic fever, which entails receiving regular penicillin injections to eliminate any strep bacteria that may exist in your child’s body.

Intolerance to exercise and fatigue are the most common earliest symptoms of rheumatic fever. Another symptom is heart palpitations, which is the feeling of having rapid, fluttering or pounding heart.

Preventive measures

Proper hand cleaning with soap and running water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is the best way to prevent all kinds of infections. If you or your children have strep throat, do not share drinking glasses or eating utensils. Wash those items carefully in hot, soapy water to prevent the spread of rheumatic fever. Children should also be taught to cover their mouths when sneezing or coughing as a preventive measure.

Dr. Gikonyo says a greater risk of rheumatic fever is associated with overcrowding, poor sanitation and other conditions that may easily result in the rapid transmission or multiple exposures to strep bacteria. As a preventive measure, people should strive to live in a clean environment.

Often, RHD is detected when it has developed to advanced stages and only expensive and complicated heart surgery can save the person’s life by replacing the damaged heart valves. Any child with a persistent sore throat should have a throat culture to check for strep infection.

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