Endocarditis

Overview


Endocarditis is an infection of the inner lining of the heart. It is typically caused by bacteria (or in rare cases fungi) from other parts of your body, for example your mouth or skin. These bacteria travel through the bloodstream and can attach to the inner surface of the heart where an infection can grow. If left untreated, the infection not only damages the heart valves and heart lining, but it can spread to other areas of the body and even cause a stroke.

Endocarditis is more common in people who have an artificial heart valve or pacemaker, and in those who had heart defects from birth that have been repaired with surgery.  Endocarditis also is more common in people whose immune systems are weak, those on dialysis and those who use injected drugs.

Treatment includes a long course of antibiotics. Some people require heart surgery to remove the infection and repair the damage.

Individuals who have had endocarditis once are more likely to have it a second time. Also, they may need antibiotics before having dental treatments and other medical procedures to lower the risk of infection and getting endocarditis.

Causes

Endocarditis is caused by bacteria in the bloodstream that leads to infection and injury of a heart valve. Bacteria may enter the bloodstream due to infections in the skin, mouth, lungs, or urinary tract. Bacteria may also enter the bloodstream after certain procedures. Illicit intravenous drug use also is a source for bacteria.

Endocarditis may develop if enough bacteria attach to heart valves or other devices in the heart, such as pacemaker wires. Although normal heart valves are good at resisting infection, damaged or heart valves with abnormal structures are at higher risk for endocarditis.

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Published: August 2017
Editorial Team Lead: Tina Shah, MBBS, FACC, Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, Baylor College of Medicine, Houston
Medical Contributors: Renee Bullock-Palmer, MBBS, FACC; Nadeen Faza, MD; Manuel Cabada Gamboa, MD; Ravi Ghanta, MD; Surovi Hazarika, MD; Matthew Wiisanen, MD

Infographic: Heart Valve Disease

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