Rheumatic Fever: A Disease of Developing Countries
Rheumatic fever can be considered as an inflammatory disease that affects the heart, joints, and the skin. This disease is basically a bacterial infection. Some 50 years ago, rheumatic fever was one of the main childhood disease in North America and Europe that damaged heart valves of many people. These damages exhibit themselves in many elderly people as mitral stenosis, a most commonly observed heart valve disorder. But, nowadays rheumatic fever is a very rare condition in developed countries due to the use of effective antibiotics. Apart from that, standards of living have also increased with an opportunity for better housing and nutrition. Still, a few occurrences have been reported in the US in recent times but none were reported in the UK. Even though this is the situation in developed countries, rheumatic fever still affects numerous people in developing countries. Generally, rheumatic fever develops afterwards a streptococcal bacterial infection of the throat. Such a condition happens when the immune system of our body attacks the body's own tissues due to infection. Major symptoms Rheumatic fever surfaces at about 1-4 weeks after the sore throat has cleared up. Commonly found symptoms includes: High fever. Swelling and aching of the joints, like knees, ankles and elbows. Characteristic pink rashes on the limbs and trunk. In case the heart muscle gets affected, chest pain and shortness of breath may persist for some more weeks till the inflammation settles down. Also, keep in mind that a heart valve inflammation once happened, may cause a permanent damage to the valve that may lead to scarring and thickening of the valve many years later. Excessive tiredness is also another symptom of valve damage. Steps to Be Taken: Once rheumatic fever is diagnosed, in order to confirm the streptococcal infection a blood test is performed by taking a swab from the throat. An X-ray may also be needed to have a look at the size of the heart and to confirm whether it is inflamed or not. Another test to be conducted will be ECG. ECG will help to monitor electrical activity of the heart and to take the interior image of the heart valves. Once diagnosed, the patient is given antibiotics to fight the infection. Also, two weeks full bed rest is advised. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines will be given to reduce the joint inflammation and fever. In addition to these, corticosteroids will be prescribed in order to reduce the inflammation. Low-dose antibiotic intake may also be required for up to five years in order to avoid recurrence of the illness. Studies show that for around 1 in 100 people, the rheumatic fever attack becomes fatal and may cause death. Also, note that the risk of a recurrent attack is highest in the initial three years after the first infection in young people with damaged valves. After around ten years, 2 in 3 people will have a heart valve disorder that is detectable.