Rheumatic Heart Disease (RHD) is caused by a bacterial (streptococcal) throat infection acquired in childhood. Although this type of infection is common and widespread, a small proportion of children so affected go on to develop an inflammatory condition that leads to scarring and narrowing of the heart valves and, in time, heart failure. Early on in the course of the disease the joints may be affected – hence the term “rheumatic”.
Still an important disease
At one time Rheumatic Heart Disease was common throughout the UK, Europe and the US; it was the most important cause of heart disease among young adults in Victorian Britain and probably caused the death of Mozart. Although rare now in most developed countries, it remains an important public health problem in many low and middle income countries. The disease is widespread in the Middle East and Asia, and the the poor indigenous populations of some wealthy countries, for example among Australian Aboriginees and New Zealand Maoris. It is particularly prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa, where it is one of the commonest causes of heart disease, typically affecting children or young adults. There it carries a grim prognosis because of the lack of specialised treatment. Continue reading “Smoke exposure in early life and Rheumatic Heart Disease”