A Sore Throat and Heart Disease

General practitioner examining throat
A young woman having her throat looked at by a doctor. (Image: KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStock/Getty Images)

At first glance, a sore throat and heart disease may seem to have little to do with each other. However, sore throats can introduce bacteria into the blood stream, leading to certain types of heart disease, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Types

There are two types of heart disease associated with a sore throat. Rheumatic heart disease is a condition in which the valves of the heart become damaged. Rheumatic heart disease begins with rheumatic fever caused by strep throat, a sore throat caused by the Streptococcus bacteria. Instances of rheumatic fever are rare in the United States, according to the American Heart Association, but it is the leading cause of death in less developed countries.

Another type of heart disease associated with a sore throat is bacterial endocarditis. Bacterial endocarditis rarely occurs in people who have healthy heart valves. The American Heart Association explains that streptococcus viridians are responsible for approximately 50 percent of bacterial endocarditis cases.

Risks

There is little risk of developing rheumatic heart disease or rheumatic fever in the United States though an untreated strep infection may increase the risk slightly. However, certain people are more likely to develop bacterial endocarditis. People who have an artificial heart valve, a previous history of endocarditis, damaged heart valves, congenital heart defects and people who have had a heart transplant have a greater risk for developing the disease.

Symptoms

Symptoms of strep throat include sudden onset of sore throat, pain when swallowing, fever, red throat and tonsils, abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting as well as a headache. The American Heart Association explains that symptoms of rheumatic fever often include fever, painful swollen joints, heart palpitations, chest pain, shortness of breath, skin rashes, fatigue and small painless nodules under the skin. Symptoms of bacterial endocarditis may include abnormal urine color, bloody urine, excessive sweating, chills, fatigue, joint pain, muscle aches, splinter hemorrhages under the nails and night sweats, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Prevention

The American Heart Association recommends preventive antibiotics for patients who are at high risk for bacterial endocarditis before they undergo certain dental procedures or surgeries of the respiratory tract or infected skin. Patients can help to prevent developing rheumatic heart disease by seeking help for strep throat and completing all antibiotic treatments as prescribed.

Treatments

Treatment for rheumatic heart disease and bacterial endocarditis often include admittance to the hospital for long term high dose antibiotics. Treatment may last as long as four to six weeks, dependent upon the specific type of bacteria.

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