Echocardiographic screening for rheumatic heart disease—some answers, but questions remain
Despite being preventable, rheumatic heart disease (RHD) remains a significant global cause of cardiovascular disease. Echocardiographic screening for early detection of RHD has the potential to enable timely commencement of treatment (secondary prophylaxis) to halt progression to severe valvular disease. However, a number of issues remain to be addressed regarding its feasibility. The natural history of Definite RHD without a prior history of acute rheumatic fever (ARF) and Borderline RHD are both unclear. Even if they are variants of RHD it is not known whether secondary antibiotic prophylaxis will prevent disease progression as it does in “traditionally” diagnosed RHD. False positives can also have a detrimental impact on individuals and their families as well as place substantial burdens on health care systems. Recent research suggests that handheld echocardiography (HAND) may offer a cheaper and more convenient alternative to standard portable echocardiography (STAND) in RHD screening. However, while HAND is sensitive for the detection of Definite RHD, it is less sensitive for Borderline RHD and is relatively poor at detecting mitral stenosis (MS). Given its attendant limited specificity, potential cases detected with HAND would require re-examination by standard echocardiography. For now, echocardiographic screening for RHD should remain a subject of research rather than routine health care.