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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. It can be a life-threatening infection. The infection can also permanently damage the heart and lead to serious health problems, such as heart failure.
The infection is most common when the heart or valves have already been damaged.
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 such as stroke or infections in the lungs or other organs.
Bacterial endocarditis is caused by specific bacteria. The bacteria may be part of an infection somewhere in the body or normally exist on the surface of skin or tissue. Bacteria can enter the blood stream through break in the skin or tissue or spread of an infection.
The blood stream will eventually pass through the heart. If the bacteria is able to stick to the heart, an infection will develop. Some heart conditions cause blood flow to be blocked or to pool, which makes it easier for bacteria to stick and grow.
Risk Factors TOP
Certain medical conditions make it easier for bacteria to stick inside the heart. This increases the chance of bacterial endocarditis. Conditions that increase the risk of infection include:
Activities that increase the risk of bacteria entering the blood stream include:
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 to start treatment. Antibiotics are initially given through an IV. If the infection is under good control treatment may be completed at home with pills. Antibiotics may be needed for 4-6 weeks.
Antibiotics may not be able to fully manage the infection. In this case, surgery may be needed to remove infected tissue.
Surgery may also be needed if there was severe damage done to the heart or valves.
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 January 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Michael J. Fucci, DO, FACC
Last Updated: 1/11/2018
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