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Bacterial Endocarditis

(Infective Endocarditis)


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.

Bacterial Endocarditis

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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.

Causes    TOP

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:

  • IV drug use—risk is very high when needles are shared
  • Any dental procedure, even cleanings
  • Removal of tonsils or adenoids, and other procedures involving the ears, nose, and throat
  • Viewing the airways though a thin, lighted tube— bronchoscopy
  • Surgery on the gastrointestinal or urinary tracks, including the gallbladder and prostate

Symptoms    TOP

Symptoms vary from mild to severe, depending on:

  • The bacteria causing the infection
  • The amount of bacteria in the blood
  • The degree of structural heart defects
  • Your body's ability to fight infection
  • Your overall health

Symptoms can begin within 2 weeks of the bacteria entering the bloodstream. These may include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Discomfort
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Poor appetite
  • Muscle aches
  • Joint pain
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Little red dots on the skin, inside the mouth, and/or under the nails
  • Bumps on the fingers and toes

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.

Diagnosis    TOP

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    TOP

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.

Prevention    TOP

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:

  • Tell your dentist and doctors if you have any heart conditions.
  • Maintain good oral hygiene:
    • Brush your teeth 2 times a day
    • Floss once a day
    • Visit your dentist for a cleaning at least every 6 months or as advised
  • See your dentist if dentures cause discomfort.
  • Get medical help right away if you have symptoms of an infection.


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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