Bacterial endocarditis is an infection of the lining of the heart or its valves. While relatively uncommon, bacterial endocarditis can cause serious damage. Prevention is therefore extremely important.
Causes and triggers
Endocarditis occurs when bacteria enter the bloodstream through the mucous membranes of the mouth, open wounds, needles, or medical procedures. Normally, these bacteria are destroyed by the immune system and do not cause any infection. However, in some instances, bacteria may attach to heart tissue, causing endocarditis. Some are more at risk for developing endocarditis, including:
- Those with heart disease
- Those who have undergone heart surgery
- Those with congenital heart problems
- Those who have already had endocarditis
- Those with a compromised immune system (e.g., from an organ transplant or HIV)
- Those who use intravenous drugs
Endocarditis must be treated at the hospital with intravenous antibiotics. Sometimes surgery is needed.
To prevent endocarditis from occurring in patients at higher risk, the following measures are recommended:
- When seeing a health care professional, let them know that you are at risk for endocarditis
- Brush teeth after each meal and at bedtime
- Floss every day
- See your dentist regularly and notify them of any change in your oral health
Also, certain higher-risk patients should be prescribed preventive antibiotics before dental procedures and certain examinations that involve the respiratory tract, to prevent infection.
When should I see a medical professional?
See your healthcare provider immediately if you are at risk for endocarditis and have one or more of the following symptoms:
- Fever or chills
- Joint or muscle pain
- Night sweats
- Shortness of breath, persistent cough, or difficulty breathing