Bacterial endocarditis is a bacterial infection of the inner layer of the heart or the heart valves. The heart has 4 valves. These valves help the blood flow through the heart and out to the body. When a person has bacterial endocarditis, these valves may not be able to work properly. This can force the heart to work harder to get blood out to the body. Sometimes the heart can’t pump out enough blood. Bacterial endocarditis is a serious condition that can sometimes lead to death.
Bacterial endocarditis can also cause the bacteria to clump with cells and other things in the blood. These clumps are often called vegetation. They can travel to many parts of the body and cause problems.
In adults, bacterial endocarditis is more common in men than in women. It is very rare in people with normal hearts who have no other risk factors. It is much more common in people with certain heart problems or other risk factors.
In some cases, the symptoms start suddenly and are severe. This is called acute bacterial endocarditis. In other cases, it happens more slowly and is less severe. This is called subacute bacterial endocarditis.
Some kinds of bacteria normally live on and in the body. They live in the mouth, in the respiratory system, on the skin, and in the digestive tract. Sometimes these bacteria can get into the bloodstream. This may happen after a medical or dental procedure that breaks the skin or other tissue. Bacteria go into the bloodstream and can settle on the heart lining or on the heart valves.
Not all types of bacteria can cause this kind of infection, but many types can. Two kinds of bacteria cause most cases of bacterial endocarditis. These are staphylococci (staph) and streptococci (strep).
You may be at increased risk for bacterial endocarditis if you have certain heart valve problems. This gives the bacteria an easier place to take hold and grow. It is rare for a person with a normal heart to get endocarditis.
Several factors increase the chance of getting bacterial endocarditis, including:
Symptoms may come on suddenly and be severe. Or, they may happen slowly and be less severe. Symptoms may include:
Your health care provider will ask about your symptoms and your medical history. He or she will give you a physical exam.
You may also need tests, such as:
Antibiotics are the main treatment for bacterial endocarditis. The type of antibiotic depends on several factors. These include the type of bacteria, and if you have an artificial valve. A team of healthcare providers will work together to decide the best treatment plan for you. This team will likely include a cardiologist, an infectious disease doctor, and a heart surgeon.
You will need to take antibiotics for many weeks. At first, you’ll be given antibiotics through an IV. You may need to spend at least the first week of treatment in the hospital. After that, you may be able to have IV antibiotics at home with home-based care. Later in your treatment, you may be able to take oral antibiotics.
If the damage to your valves is severe, you may need heart valve surgery. This is done to repair or replace a damaged heart valve. Or you might need surgery to help clear the endocarditis. This may be done if the antibiotics don’t work well enough on the infection.
Bacterial endocarditis causes clumps of bacteria and cells begin to form on the heart valves. These clumps can break free into the bloodstream. They can then cause damage by blocking other blood vessels. They can also spread the infection to other organs. Because of this, there are many possible complications. Many of these are serious. The risk of these complications varies depending on a person’s other medical conditions. Heart problems are the most common type of complication. Possible complications include:
Not all cases of bacterial endocarditis can be prevented. But you can lower some of these risks. For example, prompt treatment of a strep infection can help prevent rheumatic heart disease. Not using IV drugs can lower your risk. Keeping your mouth clean and healthy can also lower your risk.
You may need to take antibiotics before some medical and dental procedures. This is to help prevent endocarditis if you have a prosthetic heart valve, congenital heart disease, or a history of endocarditis. Make sure to tell all of your healthcare providers and dentists about your heart health history.
See a healthcare provider right away if you have any symptoms of endocarditis.
Bacterial endocarditis is an infection of the heart’s inner lining or heart valves. It is a serious condition that needs to be treated right away.
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