Many sore throats are just symptoms of an infection or a virus that will pass. But get it checked, because if your sore throat turns out to be from a streptococcal infection (“strep” throat), you need to take care of it immediately so it doesn’t lead to rheumatic fever. The cardiologists at St. Luke’s Heart and Vascular Center will tell you that rheumatic fever can affect many parts of the body, including the heart, causing inflamed or scarred heart valves.
Another illness that can lead to heart valve disease is infective endocarditis (IE), which is caused by bacteria that enter the bloodstream and settle in the heart lining, valves, or muscles. If you have had heart episodes in the past, you are at a higher risk for IE. This bacteria can enter your body by a simple bruising of your gums when you are brushing your teeth.
The cardiologists at St. Luke’s Heart & Vascular Center also want you to heed this advice: if you are getting up in years, and experiencing problems like fatigue, shortness of breath, and lightheadedness, don’t just dismiss these as “normal.” Get yourself checked out, because heart valve problems — sometimes hidden for years — become more dangerous as we age. Cardiologists will take your medical history and examine you; based on what they find, they might order tests including a chest x-ray, an electrocardiogram (which reveals any rhythm abnormalities), and an echocardiogram (an ultrasound test that shows how well your heart is pumping) before developing your action plan.
What can you do on your own to prevent heart valve disease? The experts at St. Luke’s Heart and Vascular Center give simple rules to follow that can help you ward off a host of heart problems, such as not smoking, drinking only moderate amounts of alcohol, eating healthier, lowering sodium intake, and getting regular exercise. To prevent heart valve disease, they add these to the list: get that sore throat diagnosed and treated, maintain proper dental hygiene, and pay attention to what your body is telling you.