“Is Rheumatic Heart Valve Disease Common?” Asks Frank
By Adam Pick on May 2, 2010
I just received an interesting question from Frank about rheumatic heart disease and heart valve surgery.
Frank writes, “Hi Adam – I’m preparing for mitral valve repair surgery due to stenosis caused by rheumatic fever. So far, I have not come across many patients like me. I’m curious… Is rheumatic heart valve disease common? Or, am I the lucky outlier? Thanks, Frank”
After speaking with thousands of patients over the years, my gut response to Frank’s question is that his diagnosis is less common than other patients. However, this is not to say that Frank is alone. For example, if you type “rheumatic” into the search field on the side margin of this blog, you will see several patient stories relating to rheumatic fever.To further evaluate Frank’s question, I just did some quick research about rheumatic fever and heart valve disorders. I found some helpful information from the American Heart Association (AHA).
According to the AHA:
- Rheumatic fever and rheumatic heart disease killed 3,257 people in the United States in 2006.
- Modern antibiotic therapy has sharply reduced mortality. In 1950, about 15,000 people in the United States died of these diseases.
- From 1996 to 2006, the death rate from rheumatic fever/rheumatic heart disease fell 8.3 percent. Actual deaths declined 26.2 percent.
In reviewing these statistics, it appears that modern antibiotics (e.g. penicillin) are protecting patients against the negative impact of Group A Streptococcus, the bacteria that causes rheumatic fever. The benefits of drug therapy are further understood when you consider that patients with rheumatic heart disease are at higher risk for bacterial endocarditis, according to AHA.
While I have yet to find any clinical data about the incidence or frequency of heart valve surgery due to rheumatic fever, I hope the information above provides some insight into Frank’s question.
The good news is that the incidence of rheumatic heart disease is declining. Unfortunately, the bad news is that rheumatic fever continues to impact our hearts – especially patients in less developed countries who do not have access to antibiotics.
Keep on tickin!