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by Debra Wood, RN
The endocardium is a thin layer of membrane that covers the inner surface of the heart. Bacterial endocarditis is an infection of this membrane. Infection occurs when bacteria attach to the membrane and grow.
The infection is most common when the heart or valves have already been damaged. It can permanently damage the heart valves. This can lead to serious health problems, such as heart failure. Bacterial endocarditis can be life-threatening.
The infection can also cause growths on the valves or other areas of the heart. Pieces of these growths can break off and travel to other parts of the body. This can cause serious complications.
Bacterial endocarditis is caused by specific bacteria. Bacteria can travel to the heart through the blood. It can enter the blood from an infection somewhere else in the body. It can also enter during an activity that causes breaks in the skin or tissues. This activity can be dental work, surgery, or IV drug use.
The bacteria may be able to attach to the endocardium. Some heart conditions can increase the chance of infections. These conditions may cause blood flow to be blocked or to pool. This provides a place for the bacteria to build up.
Risk Factors TOP
Factors that may increase your chances of bacterial endocarditis:
The conditions listed above increase your risk of the infection with certain activities such as:
Symptoms vary from mild to severe, depending on:
Symptoms can begin within 2 weeks of the bacteria entering the bloodstream. These may include:
Note: The first symptom may be caused by a piece of the infected heart growth breaking off. This can include a stroke or other complication to another organ.
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor will listen to your heart for a murmur.
Tests may include:
Treatment will focus on getting rid of the infection in the blood and heart.
Bacterial endocarditis requires hospitalization for treatment. Antibiotics are given through an IV. This therapy may last for 4-6 weeks.
The antibiotics may not remove the bacteria. The infection may also return. In this case, surgery may be needed.
Surgery may also be needed if there was damage done to the heart or valves from the infection.
The best way to prevent endocarditis is to avoid the use of illegal IV drugs. Certain heart conditions may increase your risk. Talk to your doctor to find out whether you are at increased risk for this condition. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that people at very high risk take antibiotics before and after certain dental and medical procedures.
You should also:
American Heart Association
Mouth Healthy—American Dental Association
Canadian Dental Association
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
Antibiotic prophylaxis prior to dental procedures. American Dental Association website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Accessed November 29, 2017.
Infective endocarditis. American Heart Association website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated September 29, 2017. Accessed November 29, 2017.
Infective endocarditis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated November 22, 2017. Accessed November 29, 2017.
Thanavaro KL, Nixon JV. Endocarditis 2014: an update. Heart Lung. 2014;43(4):334-337.
Last reviewed November 2017 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael J. Fucci, DO, FACC
Last Updated: 12/20/2014
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