- It is estimated that at least 15.6 million people worldwide are living with RHD, with the burden tending to be within developing nations.
- RHD is 2x more likely to affect women than men, and women are more likely to be affected during childbearing years.
- Despite being a wealthy and prosperous nation, Australia has a high rate of RHD, particularly among Aboriginal and Torres-Strait Islander populations, as well as immigrants who have arrived from developing nations.
- 94% of the RHD cases diagnosed in Australia are people from an Aboriginal and Torres-Strait Islander background.
- Aboriginal and Torres-Strait Islander populations are 20-55x more likely to die from RHD than their non-Indigenous counterparts.
Signs and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of RHD appear to be a combination of infection-like symptoms as well as symptoms of Heart Valve Disease.
Here are some of the common signs and symptoms of RHD:
- Shortness of breath
- Oedema (swelling of fluid) in the ankles and legs
- Orthopnea (when you cannot lay down due to breathing problems)
- Chest pain
Prevention and Support
Follow the links below to find out more about how you can help prevent and support loved ones who have experienced Rheumatic Heart Disease
What you need to know
Women are 2x more likely to be diagnosed with RHD than men. Furthermore, if woman have a history of RHD it can result in a complicated pregnancy, therefore you should maintain regular contact with all your doctors if wishing to fall have a baby if you have RHD.
If you have RHD, long term you may need to take medications as well as maintain a good level of hygiene to prevent further infection and complications.
It is also important to attend regular check-ups with your doctors in order to reduce the risk of needing further major treatment such as heart valve surgery.
It would also be a good idea to see your doctor every time you have symptoms of a strep infection, such as a sore throat and fever.
If you are diagnosed with RHD, we recommend speaking with your doctor and treating team to learn more about daily management.
Research suggests that attending a Secondary Prevention Program for managing Heart Diseases can decrease the chance of being admitted to hospital, reduce your complications as well increase survival rates.
One suggestion is cardiac rehabilitation, as these programs will teach you more about your disease, help you recover, empower you to make lifestyle changes to improve heart health as well as reduce your risk of further problems.
Click here to find your nearest cardiac rehabilitation program.
Your doctor may have recommended that you take some new medications if you have RHD.
This could be an overwhelming time for you, especially as learn all about your new medications as well as any considerations for taking them.
Apart from having a discussion with your doctor and pharmacist, NPS Medicinewise has some great information on medication management, medication disposal as well as risk factors.
They also have some great information about medications for your heart, which can be found here.
It’s not too late to start looking after your heart health, even after a diagnosis of RHD.
Here are some great and easy everyday strategies you can do to look after your heart health:
Don’t smoke, as quitting smoking can reduce your risk by 50% in one year. Quitline would be a great way to start your quitting smoking journey.
Stay active, 30 minutes per day of exercise, such as walking, can reduce your risk by 30% and delivers many positive health benefits. More information about exercise as well as a sample walking session can be found here.
Get some sleep, aim for 7-8 hours sleep and aim to try and unplug from your technology (e.g. iPad) one hour before bedtime. The Sleep Health Foundation has many great women’s focused sleep pages for all stages of your life such as your menstrual cycle, pregnancy, new mothers and menopause.
Eat healthy: ensure you watch portion sizes, eat healthy and nourishing foods such as: high fibre foods (including oats and legumes), two pieces of fruit and seven serves of vegetables, reduced salt, three serves of fish per week, reducing saturated fats (such as chicken with skin on, baked goods, fried foods) whilst choosing more lean proteins such as tofu and trimmed meats. The Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute has created some handy factsheets to help you choose correct portions, supermarket shopping, healthy snacks and eating out.
Relax: try and take some time out for yourself, keep connected with friends and family, perhaps try activities such as meditation to help manage your stress levels. Beyond Blue has a great page full of practical stress relieving tips, and it could be worth to try some meditations from apps such as Smiling Mind, Headspace and Calm.
There are support groups and resources for people living with ARF or RHD. Here are some recommended ones:
Take Heart is a non-for profit promotion and awareness group for RHD, you can access stories and videos about RHD.