Dr. M.J. Bazos MD,
Endocarditis: A Heart at Risk
What is bacterial endocarditis?
Bacterial endocarditis (BE) is an infection of
the valves and inner lining of the heart (called the endocardium). It happens
when bacteria from the skin, mouth or intestines enter the bloodstream and
infect the heart valves and lining.
Who gets bacterial endocarditis?
Although BE can occur in anyone, people with a
heart valve problem, an artificial valve or a heart defect are at greatest risk.
Having a heart murmur sometimes increases the chances of getting BE. Your doctor
can usually determine whether you have a type of heart murmur that increases
your risk of BE.
Do medical and dental procedures
increase the risk of BE?
Dental work (including professional teeth
cleaning) and some medical procedures (such as colonoscopy, cysoscopy and
sigmoidoscopy) increase the risk of bacteria entering the bloodstream. If you
have an abnormal heart valve or another heart defect, you are at risk of BE any
time bacteria gets into your bloodstream.
Can BE be prevented?
If you have a heart defect or valve problem,
make sure your doctor or dentist knows about it. If you have your teeth
cleaned or have another one of the procedures mentioned above, you need to take
antibiotics. The antibiotics can help keep bacteria from surviving in your
BE can't always be prevented, because doctors
don't always know when bacteria might get into your bloodstream. That's why you
need to keep a close eye on your health if you have a heart defect or a valve
How can you tell if you have BE?
Fever, chills and other flu-like symptoms may be
the only signs of BE. Other symptoms are unexplained weight loss and weakness.
Your doctor may suspect you have BE if he or she hears abnormal heart sounds
with a stethoscope. Your doctor will then need to do more tests, such as blood
tests and echocardiography (looking at the heart by using an ultrasound) to find
out if you have BE.
How is BE treated?
BE is treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics are
usually started intravenously (through an IV) in the hospital, but many
people can finish their treatment at home. For more complicated infections,
heart surgery may be needed.
Are there complications of BE?
Once infected, your heart may not pump blood as
well as it did before. This is called heart failure. Other problems include
irregularities of the heart beat, damage to the heart muscle and blood
clots. If BE isn't treated, it can lead to death.