Infective endocarditis (IE) is an infection of the inner surface of the heart. It is common for IE to develop on the heart valves. IE can be a life-threatening infection. It can also cause lasting damage to the heart. This can lead to health problems later on, such as
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Clumps of bacteria can also form in the heart with IE. These clumps can break off and travel through the blood to other areas of the body. It may block blood flow to important organs such as the brain, kidneys, or lungs.
IE may be caused by:
- Bacteria—most common
The germs may be part of the normal environment in your mouth or on your skin. However, a cut in the mouth or skin will allow the germs to enter the blood. When the germs reach the heart, they stick to a surface. There, they can grow and damage nearby tissue. Certain conditions can make it easier for germs to stick in the heart:
- Scarred or faulty heart valves
- Heart conditions that slow blood flow or allow blood to pool
- Weak immune system
The risk of IE is higher with:
- Heart valve disease—scarring can happen from rheumatic fever
or other health problems
- A heart problem you were born with
- Prior IE
- Disease of the heart muscle—cardiomyopathy
- Having an artificial heart valve
IV drug misuse—risk is higher if needles are shared
- Poor oral health
- HIV infection
Prior procedures such as a bronchoscopy
Symptoms range from mild to serious. Factors that can influence symptoms include:
- Exact cause of the infection
- Amount of infection that's in your blood
- Structural problems of the heart
- How well your body can fight infection
- Overall health
General symptoms may include:
Weight loss without trying
- Lack of hunger
- Aches in your muscles or joints
- Problems with breathing
- Little red dots on the skin, inside the mouth, or under the nails
Bumps on the fingers and toes
You will be asked about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. The doctor will listen to your heart for a murmur. Testing will include:
- Blood tests and cultures to find the cause of the infection
to test your heart rhythm
Imaging tests to look at your heart and other structures:
The first goal of treatment is to stop the infection. This will decrease the chance of lasting problems. Further treatment may be needed if the infection caused damage to the heart.
Antibiotics will help to fight the infection. The type will depend on what exact germ is causing the infection.
It may first be given through an IV at the hospital. The medicine may them be continued as pills at home. Treatment may last for up to 6 weeks.
Surgery may be needed to:
- To remove infected tissue
- To fix any heart or valve damage
- To treat infections that continue despite treatment
IE is not common. Some people may have a higher risk. If you have a risk of IE the following may help decrease chance of an infection:
- Tell your dentist and doctors if you have any heart conditions.
Maintain good oral health:
- 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.
- Antibiotics may be needed before and after certain dental and medical procedures. This may only be advised for people with high risk of IE.
Antibiotic prophylaxis prior to dental procedures. American Dental Association website. Available at: https://www.ada.org/en/member-center/oral-health-topics/antibiotic-prophylaxis. Updated August 5, 2019. Accessed January 7, 2019.
Infective endocarditis. American Heart Association website. Available at: https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/infective-endocarditis. Accessed September 6, 2019.
Infective endocarditis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113919/Infective-endocarditis. Updated May 21, 2019. Accessed September 6, 2019.
Thanavaro KL, Nixon JV. Endocarditis 2014: an update. Heart Lung. 2014;43(4):334-337.
Last reviewed September 2019 by
EBSCO Medical Review Board
Michael J. Fucci, DO, FACC
Last Updated: 9/6/2019